OSHA to Make Only Tiny Dent in Huge Health Standards Backlog

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

OSHA to Make Only Tiny Dent in Huge Health Standards Backlog

No Strategy or Resources to Counter the Silent Epidemic of Workplace Exposures

WASHINGTON - The new regulatory agenda for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) will result in new worker protections against at
most a small handful of health hazards by the end of the presidential
term, leaving untouched the absence of standards for thousands of
chemicals and hundreds of existing standards that are much weaker than
needed to protect workers, according to Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While OSHA is beginning some new
initiatives, it is also pushing back the deadlines for completing some
ongoing health standards.

Published in the Federal Register on
April 26, 2010, the OSHA regulatory agenda lays out what new rules the
agency expects to finalize and under what schedule. The agenda does
outline a new initiative on infectious disease control for health
workers and begins a long process for issuing an omnibus "injury and
illness prevention program standard" (that would, much like the food
safety rules industry now operates under, allow each company to write
its own plant-specific plans). At the same time, it would extend the
rulemaking process for stricter limits on beryllium and silica - a
substance whose dangers have been known since the Roman Empire.

This
latest semiannual agenda is the third attempt by the Obama
administration to lay out its plans. While a contrast from the almost
total inaction during the last several years of the Clinton
administration and all the Bush years, even if OSHA meets all its new
deadlines, it will promulgate at most two or three new health standards
by the time of the 2013 Inauguration. In a recent web-chat, OSHA
Assistant Secretary David Michaels made clear that there would be scant
room for expansion:

"This regulatory agenda only represents
those items in which we are moving aggressively forward on at this time.
OSHA does not have the resources to move forward aggressively on all
rulemaking necessary to address all the pressing workplace health and
safety hazards."

"At the current rate of progress, the OSHA
health standards backlog will only get worse," stated PEER Policy
Director Erica Rosenberg, noting that hundreds of new chemicals are
introduced each year. "In most instances, OSHA is adding extra layers
of review to a process that is already too long."

Workplace
exposures are now the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S.,
resulting in more than 40,000 premature deaths per year which amounts to
roughly ten times the death toll from industrial accidents. Yet OSHA
spends more than 90% of its budget on safety issues. Thus, a key issue
is whether OSHA will grapple with what PEER calls "the silent epidemic"
of job exposure-related deaths.

One major gap in OSHA's
rulemaking ability is the dearth of economists to do cost-benefit
analyses. In addition to scientific analysis, standard-setting requires
resource-intensive economic analysis. The agency is not moving to
bring more economists in, nor does it appear to have a game plan for
moving beyond a plodding chemical-by-chemical approach.

"I am
concerned about OSHA's commitment to completing what they have on their
plate, let alone tackling an even more ambitious agenda," said Dr. Adam
Finkel, a risk assessment expert in academia, a former OSHA Director of
Health Standards Programs, and a member of the PEER Board of Directors,
who has outlined a plan for OSHA to modernize, broaden and expedite its
standard-setting. "OSHA needs to avoid the mistakes made in the late
90's of lowering expectations to the point where the finish line is no
longer in view."

 

Look at the
OSHA regulatory agenda

Compare the
yawning regulatory backlog in exposure limits

Read
David Michael's explanation via web-chat 

See the PEER
plan for Putting the "H" Back in OSHA

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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