Federal agencies

Michaels defends OSHA guidance documents, warns against budget cuts

David Michaels

Photo: US Department of Labor

Washington – OSHA administrator David Michaels appeared before a House subcommittee on Oct. 7 to push for increased OSHA funding and updated laws, and found himself fending off accusations that the agency altered rules without public input.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, criticized Michaels for recently issued OSHA memorandums that reduced the number of retail establishments exempt from the Process Safety Management Standard. The memos were issued in response to an Executive Order to improve safety at chemical facilities.

The exemption was intended to pertain only to sites with small amounts of hazardous chemicals, Michaels said, but OSHA previously had misinterpreted the PSM rule to apply the exemption to large facilities with thousands of pounds of chemicals. The new memo changed that.

“To 3,800 businesses that were exempt beforehand, it was no small change for them,” Walberg said. He characterized the change as having “drastically expanded” the number of entities covered by the PSM standard.

Although Michaels said “countless” meetings with stakeholders took place regarding the exemption, and alliances were formed with the retail and fertilizer industries, Walberg questioned how many of those stakeholders were in favor of the change.

During questioning by subcommittee Democrats, Michaels reiterated the need to update the Occupational Safety and Health Act to increase “painfully low” civil and criminal violations, and warned against a proposed agency budget cut.

“We know this is going to have a bad impact on workers,” he said.