House committee explores roles of regulations, job creation

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Washington – New government regulations would threaten economic recovery, according to witnesses who testified before congressional members on Jan. 26.

State of the American Workforce was the first hearing convened by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in the 112th Congress. Although the hearing mainly focused on business growth and job creation, it touched on workplace safety issues as well.

“Through a series of both proposed regulations and sub-regulatory administrative actions, OSHA is in the process of gutting key components of compliance assistance programs that have been proven to help employers make their workplaces safer while allowing the agency to focus its resources more effectively,” Dyke Messinger said in his written testimony.

Speaking on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers, Messinger, president and CEO of Salisbury, NC-based Power Curbers Inc., said OSHA makes it difficult for employers to work with the agency to comply with safety standards. He also suggested that new regulations could make it harder for American businesses to compete worldwide.

Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) agreed, testifying that “major new regulations … don’t help.” McDonnell said he hoped a recent presidential executive order requiring federal agencies to review current regulations would lead to “burdensome regulations actually repealed.”

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) expressed concern for an “open season” on regulations. “The everything-on-the-table approach is quite worrisome because it has the potential to undermine rules meant to protect workers,” she said.

In response, McDonnell said he was not advocating an across-the-board cut of regulations, but rather a targeted approach as outlined by the president’s order to weed out regulations for which the benefits do not outweigh the costs. The governor also stressed the need for better enforcement of current regulations.

Taking issue with testimony that suggested some regulations bring a cost burden, Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said some regulations’ savings outweigh their costs. Noting the recently revised cranes and derricks standard (.pdf file) from OSHA had a price tag of $150 million, Hirono said it actually leads to a cost savings of $209 million – and does not include the number of lives saved. “When you’re talking about saving lives, I’d say that that should be even heavier on the side of the benefits,” she said.

Newly elected Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) took a decidedly different approach, suggesting regulations that protect workers from being killed will lead to American jobs going overseas.

“In a free society, in a free republic, if we are to keep it, sometimes bad things happen to very good people,” Rokita said. “It can’t be the mission of the federal government at every turn to try to stop it, because it will fail.”

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