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Fixing OSHA’s process with a magic wand

April 23, 2012
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With numerous levels of bureaucracy, laws and court decisions hindering OSHA’s ability to pursue regulations in a timely manner, it sometimes feels like only Harry Potter could resolve the situation.

During an April 19 Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) posed this question to those testifying: If you had a magic wand, what would you do to speed up the OSHA rulemaking process while ensuring adequate time for public comment and stakeholder input?

“You’re endowing me with extraordinary powers here,” Michael Silverstein responded with a smile.

Silverstein, an environmental and occupational health professor at the University of Washington and former director of that state’s OSHA program, would use his magic wand for two things:

  • Engage in an expedited rulemaking to bring up to date the more than 400 chemicals for which the permissible exposure limit is half a century out of date
  • Adopt a general rule requiring employers to have injury and illness prevention programs, something the agency is pursuing http://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/safetyhealth/index.html

Another witness suggested Congress issue mandatory deadlines for OSHA. “Whatever the priorities are, when congress has enacted deadlines and forced OSHA to go forward, they’ve actually had a pretty good record of meeting those deadlines, and they’ve been able to do it with the same public participation,” said Randy Rabinowitz, director of regulatory policy at Washington-based research and advocacy group OMB Watch.

Rabinowitz suggested agency officials spend too much time going back and forth when making a decision. Forcing officials to make a decision by shortening the time between the end of the comment period and when the agency actually acts can allow OSHA to move on to other priorities.

Chamber of Commerce representative David Sarvadi agreed with those points. “There’s a lot of hand-wringing that goes on over there,” he said, suggesting the key to fixing the rulemaking process is about getting managers within agencies to stick to the deadlines they set.

Tom Ward, a laborer and bricklayer in Woodhaven, MI, would use his magic wand to simply get all parties to look at the solution. “If you want to speed it up, have everyone involved take a look at the simple, cost-effective control measures that we’ve known about for 70 years,” he said. “It really is way more simple than it appears.”

Ward was specifically referring to control measures for crystalline silica, a mineral that killed his 39-year-old father from silicosis after working as a sandblaster.

The solution to controlling silica in his industry? Adding water or using vacuum systems when using powered cutting tools. Simple, as he said.

Maybe we don’t need to enroll at Hogwarts after all.


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

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