Is Obama’s executive order a signal of decreasing regulations?

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President Barack Obama signed an executive order Jan. 18 requesting federal agencies to consider the impact new regulations may have on economic growth.

In an editorial published in the Wall Street Journal, Obama said the order will make it clear that the “operating principle of our government” is to strike the right balance between implementing rules that safeguard against health and safety threats, while not interfering with a growing economy.

On the surface, this order doesn’t appear to affect OSHA much. The agency already conducts reviews to determine the financial burden proposed regulations may have on companies.

So it would seem Obama’s order is more of a reminder to agencies of their obligations. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the November election and part of an attempt by the president to do more to appease the business community.

But the order also requires agencies to institute a “periodic review of existing significant regulations” to consider their effectiveness and whether they need to be modified or repealed.

OSHA doesn’t do a great job of reviewing regulations already on the books, said Frank White, the global director of HSE services at consulting firm Mercer. According to White, the agency may have to make some hard choices on where resources go: developing new regulations, or reviewing and potentially eliminating older and possibly unnecessary regulations.

Obama’s order came days after OSHA published an ambitious semiannual regulatory agenda.

OSHA has 120 days to develop a review plan, so we’ll have to wait and see how this order may change things.

Be sure to check out the March issue of Safety+Health, where I explore this a bit more in the “Washington Update” column.

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