Acosta fields questions about workplace violence, recordkeeping standards during House hearing
Washington — An OSHA standard aimed at preventing workplace violence in health care facilities is progressing, with a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel forthcoming, Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta told a House committee May 1.
Making his first appearance before the House Education and Labor Committee, Acosta faced lawmakers’ questions on the topic during a hearing titled Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Labor.
“It’s my hope that you will move forward on [the standard] expeditiously, because those workers need the protection that we can give them,” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) said.
Recent SBREFA panels, such as the one convened last year for a telecommunications towers safety standard, typically have needed around two months to complete their work.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) pointed out that the panel was supposed to begin work in January, saying the rulemaking is moving “at a snail’s pace.” The Fall 2018 regulatory agenda had slated that panel to convene in March.
“If you were to compare this to OSHA rulemaking as a general matter, this is not moving at a snail’s pace. OSHA rules historically have taken even longer than this,” Acosta countered, citing OSHA’s silica and beryllium standards.
On OSHA’s likely changes to certain ancillary provisions in the beryllium rule, Acosta said DOL is sifting through “fulsome” and “helpful” comments from a notice of proposed rulemaking.
“Sometimes rules have a lot of comments, and those comments don’t bring a lot of information,” Acosta said. “In this case, they did. We’re taking a little bit of time to fully consider those comments before developing a final rule.”
OSHA electronic recordkeeping rollback
Acosta again turned to privacy concerns when Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) inquired about OSHA’s recent rollback of its electronic recordkeeping rule. The secretary said DOL is facing lawsuits from both sides of the debate, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce watchdog group Public Citizen, among others.
“Congressman, [the rule] was asking for very detailed information about workers’ specific injuries: if they were injured, what part of the body was injured, whether they lost a part of their body,” Acosta said.
After contending that the rule and database didn’t allow the transmission of confidential information, Levin responded, “Without that information, researchers couldn’t do any effective work, could they? They wouldn’t know about repetitive injuries to wrists or legs if you just made it so generic.”
The lawmaker added that the Mine Safety and Health Administration has gathered similar information for many years and “there have been zero problems with confidentiality.”
Byrne and Rep. David Trone (D-MD) asked about the prescribing of opioids in the federal workers’ compensation program after testimony from DOL Inspector General Scott Dahl in May 2018.
Acosta said that the program is putting in “effective controls and tailored treatment” if prescriptions reach certain levels.
“We have a specialized team that notices prescription levels and will contact the providers,” he said, touting a 31% decrease in overall opioid use in the program and a 52% decline in opioid prescriptions of 30-plus days.
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