OSHA needs to stay on target, witnesses tell Congress

April 25, 2012

Washington – One of the factors lengthening OSHA’s prolonged rulemaking process is the agency’s tendency to shift priorities, witnesses told Senators during an April 19 committee hearing.

“I think OSHA should pick a few hazards, devote resources to reducing worker exposures and see these priorities through without shifting gears so often,” Randy Rabinowitz (.pdf file), director of regulatory policy at advocacy group OMB Watch, told the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Rabinowitz's comments echoed those of David Sarvadi (.pdf file), an attorney who testified on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Revae Moran (.pdf file), a director at the Government Accountability Office whose office recently wrote a report (.pdf file) about OSHA rulemaking delays.

OSHA has attempted a standards-setting priority process before but was derailed by partisan sparring in the mid-1990s, according to Michael Silverstein (.pdf file), an environmental and occupational health professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. Following the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 midterm elections, Silverstein said standards were scrutinized and the regulatory process was criticized, making it difficult to move standards forward.

“The debate became kind of trivialized in some ways,” Silverstein said. “Under those circumstances, it became very difficult to stick to OSHA’s priority list.”