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Waiting is the hardest part

March 1, 2012

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Despite suggestions from some stakeholders that a rush of regulation has streamed out of Washington under the current administration, the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health is pleading with OSHA to complete several rulemakings.

Using such language as “deeply distressed,” “concerned” and “disappointed,” the advisory committee issued a set of recommendations  to OSHA on Dec. 21 concerning proposed standards that seem to be languishing. NACOSH, which advises the secretaries of labor and health and human services, emphasized two rulemakings in particular: silica and injury and illness prevention programs.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing the proposed silica rule since February 2011; OSHA began the rulemaking process 14 years ago. Had the agency and administrations followed the timetables to the letter in promulgating the proposed regulation instead of delaying the process, the rule would have been initiated years ago, Michael Silverstein said.
Silverstein, who heads Washington state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health and whose two-year NACOSH chairmanship expired in March, said the current delays go “well beyond” statutory and administrative requirements. He suggested the White House was to blame.

“The business community has raised objections, and the administration at the highest level has been listening to those objections and has been sitting on the rule,” he told Safety+Health. The White House, OMB and OSHA hosted numerous meetings on silica in 2011 with employer groups and labor unions.

The current silica regulation is grossly out of date with what is now known about the mineral – it is linked to a deadly respiratory disease and cancer, and the current OSHA permissible exposure limit is based on 40-year-old recommendations derived through obsolete technology.

According to Silverstein, OSHA administrator David Michaels attended a Dec. 15 NACOSH meeting and acknowledged the agency’s work was proceeding slower than it hoped but stressed that OSHA remained committed to moving forward. NACOSH urged OSHA to issue the proposed rule “without further delay” so the process for a final rule could begin.

NACOSH also took aim at the apparent lack of progress on the injury and illness prevention program proposed rule. Last June, OSHA said it intended to initiate the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review that summer, but the timeline has not been met.

A successful program designed to eliminate risks in the workplace is seen nearly universally as the best way to improve safety in the workplace. Michaels has called the rule requiring employers to have such a program his No. 1 priority, and NACOSH recommended it stay that way.

NACOSH also repeated its suggestion that NIOSH and OSHA jointly host an injury and illness prevention program symposium this year. Unrelated to the proposed rule, the symposium would showcase the best practices of programs for small, medium and large workplaces, the committee said.

The committee also encouraged OSHA to complete a final rule by the end of the year transitioning the use of the Standard Industrial Classification to the North American Industry Classification System, a timeline Silverstein said he hoped would be met.

“I can’t imagine there would be any justifiable reason not to go ahead and do this,” he said. “This one should be fairly straightforward.”

OSHA’s current data system – like many of its PELs – is out of date. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and several other agencies use NAICS, and the failure of OSHA to do so means it cannot easily compare its data with data from those agencies. Some of the most vital outside data that OSHA uses is on NAICS, including BLS’s injury, illness and fatality data. NACOSH recommended the final rule be completed this year so it could become effective for reporting in 2013.

Silverstein said NACOSH’s recommendations were unanimous among the committee members, who are appointed by the secretaries of labor and health and human services, and represent labor and business communities, the public, and safety professionals.

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

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