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Regulating when to regulate

July 27, 2012

Legislation in the House has the potential to bring the rulemaking process to a virtual standstill, and its effects on occupational safety and health could be huge.

This isn’t the first time the GOP-led House has attempted such measures to hinder regulatory activity. But this is the first major piece of legislation tied to the economy in such a significant way.

The Regulatory Freeze for Jobs Act (H.R. 4078) would halt all regulatory action leading to a final rule with an annual cost to the economy of $100 million or more until the unemployment rate in the country drops to 6 percent or lower. The current rate stands at 8.2 percent.

If this rule would have been in effect since the last time the unemployment rate was at or below 6 percent (July 2008, 5.8 percent), two of OSHA’s last three major rulemakings would not have been allowed to be issued:

Both of these rules have economic benefits that significantly reduce that annual cost, but the House bill doesn’t seem to provide for such allowances.

What’s notable about this legislation is in addition to stopping new regulations from going into effect, it would bar just about every action an agency could take in the development of a final rule – notices of inquiry, advance notices of proposed rulemaking and notices of proposed rulemaking.

So several high-profile standards that agencies currently are working on that could help prevent hundreds of work-related deaths, injuries or illnesses each year – including an OSHA Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard and an MSHA rule to reduce “black lung” disease – would be placed on the back burner until the economy improves.

New regulations always carry a cost for employers, and that cost can be especially difficult during these economic times. But worker deaths and injuries also carry steep costs for employers, costs that come regardless of whether the economy is driven by a bear or bull market.

A vote on the bill before the full House is expected soon.


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

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