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Washington Update: Time will tell on latest regulatory agenda

March 1, 2013

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When it comes to timelines, it seems the government is not rushing to stay on task.

The latest regulatory agenda for OSHA, published Dec. 21, extends completion dates for several proposed rulemakings. The agenda itself also missed its timeline for being released.

The December agenda was the only one published in 2012. Every administration is supposed to publish two agendas per year – in the spring and in the fall – outlining the regulations various agencies are working on and a rough estimate of when the stages of rulemaking for those regulations will be completed. (See The lost agenda.)

At first glance, the latest agenda seems ambitious: OSHA is scheduled to issue eight final rules and seven notices of proposed rulemaking in 2013, including several long-awaited proposals.

Closer examination, however, shows that many of the same final and proposed rules were expected in 2012. For example, the fall 2011 regulatory agenda scheduled rules for electric power transmission and distribution/electrical power requirements in May 2012, confined spaces in construction in June 2012, and walking/working surfaces and fall protection systems in October 2012. The latest agenda extends those dates nearly a year to March, July and August of this year, respectively.

Several NPRMs also have been delayed. An NPRM on improving OSHA’s ability to track workplace injuries and illnesses – originally scheduled to be published last month – is slated for May. A rule regarding occupational exposure to crystalline silica, scheduled to have an NPRM issued in May, has been under review by the Office of Management and Budget for nearly two years – a length of time that far exceeds the typical 90-day review period.

That said, the Obama administration seems to be making an effort to speed up the process in some areas. OSHA is expected to issue simultaneous final rules and NPRMs to accelerate the regulatory process for non-controversial rule changes. These include a revision to the Cranes and Derricks Standard (expected in March), a rule revoking a requirement for employers to keep and maintain certain records (also in March), and a consensus standard update to rules on signage (April).

Additionally, two interim final rules are expected on whistleblower protection standards related to the Affordable Care Act and three other statutes.

Other rules have advanced on the latest agenda. An NPRM for an Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard – OSHA administrator David Michaels’ No. 1 priority – is scheduled for December.

Combustible dust, last seen relegated to “long-term action” status, has returned to the current agenda and is set to undergo a review in October in compliance with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act. Another formerly long-term action item is a rulemaking on occupational exposure to beryllium; an NPRM now is scheduled for July.

With the recent news that Michaels will stay on board as OSHA administrator for a second term, the priority placed on many of these rulemakings will likely remain unchanged. But knowing how long it can take the agency to complete standards and how long some rules – including beryllium, silica and combustible dust – already have been on the agenda, it’s probably safe to say some of these rules may not be promulgated for a while.

As always, only time will tell.

The opinions expressed in “Washington Update” do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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