Liberals: OMB moved too slowly on workplace safety rules

Liberals say the Office of Management and Budget hasn’t moved quickly enough on a sweeping change to workplace safety rules.

The labor movement and liberals are monitoring a new rule being developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that would have employers institute their own Injury and Illness Prevention Program, or "I2P2."

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs took more than four months to approve paperwork for the proposal, potentially setting back the rule’s schedule.

“This is the signature initiative of OSHA,” said Sid Shapiro, vice president of the Center for Progressive Reform, a liberal think tank focused on regulations. “Instead of recognizing this and making it the highest priority, they really took their time in getting this done. It seems to me you could have just picked up the phone and worked this out in 20 minutes.” 

Once finalized, I2P2 would require workplace managers to issue a written, in-depth health and safety plans for their organization.

Proponents of the regulation argue it could ease the burden on OSHA, which they say does not have the funding or the manpower to tackle every safety hazard that pops up in the workplace. Business groups, however, fear the regulation could lead to a burdensome enforcement program at OSHA.

To move forward on the rule, OSHA planned to distribute a survey to help with its business outreach before releasing economic and feasibility analyses in June.

OMB had to clear the survey, though, before it could be sent out. The agency only did so in late March after receiving the paperwork in the first week of November.

“It's like [OMB] is stuck in a time warp. They are doing business as usual, like they were doing during the Reagan administration,” said Shapiro, also a law professor at Wake Forest University.

In a blog post on the Center’s website Wednesday, Shapiro said the delay in moving the paperwork could push back the publication of the rule.

The concerns over I2P2 reflect broader worries among liberals about President Obama’s commitment to new regulations. In January, Obama signed off on a government-wide review intended to scrap unneeded and overly burdensome regulation, and several proposed rules have been pulled back or delayed since then.

OMB defended its slow response to the OSHA survey and said it takes worker health and safety protections “very seriously.”

“It is not uncommon for complex and consequential regulatory actions such as this one to require more time for OMB review. This administration takes the protection of worker health and safety very seriously, so it was critical that we get this review right,” said Meg Reilly, an OMB spokeswoman. “And, as [Shapiro] notes, the review has concluded and it continues to move through the process.”

Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that “it was too soon to tell” whether OMB’s sluggishness on the paperwork for the regulation would lead to a serious delay.

The Chamber is among a number of business groups that are fiercely opposed to I2P2.

“It will be a bludgeon on employers,” Freedman said.

Freedman said the proposed rule could lead to double citations for every mishap by employers — one for the missed safety hazard, and the other for having an inadequate safety plan in place to deal with it. 

Shapiro, however, said business should be happy with I2P2 because it should give them more control over safety in the workplace.

“It closes a pretty big gap in worker protections and it adds some teeth to the general duty clause but not in a way where Washington is telling people what to do,” Shapiro said. “It seems to me that is a compromise position.”

Despite the criticism of I2P2, Freedman said the Chamber hopes to work with the government to improve the regulation before it is issued.

“We are reacting to what has been said already,” Freedman said. “Surprise us. Listen to our comments and change the proposal accordingly."

A spokeswoman for OSHA declined to comment for this report.