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Where’s OSHA?

June 20, 2011

A recent congressional hearing focusing on OSHA’s actions was missing an important witness: an OSHA representative.

The June 16 House Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing – “Is OSHA Undermining State Efforts to Promote Workplace Safety?” – focused primarily on OSHA’s interaction with State Plan states and territories, and whether the federal agency was hampering the state-run programs. Four panelists testified, but none were from the titular agency, a point brought up shortly into the hearing by ranking member Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).

“I am disappointed that the majority failed to invite OSHA, or schedule this hearing with sufficient advance notice so that they could be available to us to present their views,” she said in her opening comments.

This led to a brief back-and-forth between Woolsey and subcommittee chair Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), who said OSHA’s response to an audit being discussed in the hearing was included in the hearing record. Walberg also stressed that he followed committee rules by providing the agency seven days notice.

But according to Woolsey, the Department of Labor needs 14 days to adequately prepare for hearings, per the department’s own guidelines.

“We know that,” Woolsey said. “We can do that.”

Walberg’s response: “We’ll do our best.”

It didn’t end there, as Woolsey and Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) continued to needle the majority on an issue that, in hindsight, probably isn’t nearly as important as other topics, such as ensuring proper funding for an important federal agency.

To be sure, it probably would have been helpful – and fair – for OSHA to be represented at the meeting to address some of the accusations. Walberg did state that more hearings will take place, and OSHA higher-ups are sure to be included. Let’s hope so. These hearings provide great opportunities to get at the root of a problem and flesh out possible solutions – provided the politicians can avoid partisan bickering.

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