Unions, watchdogs decry delays on workplace safety rules

Unions, public health scholars and Washington watchdogs pushed Thursday for a simpler and more transparent regulatory process for creating workplace health and safety rules.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is bogged down under more procedural requirements and higher evidence standards than other agencies, witnesses argued at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. 

“In the years since its creation, OSHA’s charge to protect workers from harm has been undermined by Kafkaesque demands for additional reviews of existing rules mandated by new statutes and executive orders,” said Randy Rabinowitz, OMB Watch’s director of regulatory policy.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce shot back that the real problem is OSHA’s inability to prioritize and follow through on regulations. 

Both sides cited a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which examined how long it takes OSHA to finish a regulation. The report found that OSHA takes seven years and nine months, on average, to implement a regulation due to the “increased number of procedural requirements established since 1980, shifting priorities and the relatively high standard of judicial review required for OSHA standards.” 

Advocates said workplace fatalities that could be prevented occur while OSHA is slogging away at known problems. 

Much of the hearing focused on the White House office that oversees the federal regulatory process. Certain regulations need to be vetted by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) once before taking public comments, and again after the comment period ends for the White House to ensure the regulations do not duplicate other agencies’ existing regulations and are as efficient and effective as possible.

OIRA has slowed the process for OSHA rules before, even though it is only supposed to hold a rule for a maximum 120 days. But OIRA has held rules for far longer than 120 days, including a current rule on occupational exposure to crystalline silica that has been held for 14 months without explanation, advocates said.

The crystalline silica rule would decrease exposure to a known carcinogen and has not been published for public comment. At least 35 groups have met with OIRA behind closed doors on the rule, The Hill reported previously. 


Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa) said OIRA is a “super-secret organization” that even his staff has had trouble receiving certain records from.

GAO Director Revae Moran said OIRA appears to only have held up the crystalline silica rule and did not appear to be a consistent factor in the lagging regulation timeline. A small-business impact report and additional analyzing requirements unique to OSHA appear to slow the process as well, Moran said.    

David Sarvadi, who represented the Chamber, also disputed that OIRA was a major holdup in the OSHA rulemaking process.

“If OSHA wanted to get a rule done on silica, it could have done it in 1979, 1978 without having to go through all of the exercises we’ve gone through since then,” Sarvadi said. “The reason it didn’t happen is because I don’t think they understood the significance and the importance of establishing the rule.”

Tom Ward, a union representative whose father died of silicosis, implored OSHA to look at the facts on silica exposure.

“Have everyone involved take a look at the simple, cost-effective control measures we’ve known about for 70 years,” said Ward, a member of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

“If you really look at how much [silicosis] you’re exposed to and how simple the controls are, everyone would be on board, I’m almost certain. It really is way more simple than it appears,” he said.


An OSHA spokesperson on Friday told The Hill the agency is committed to moving the crystalline silica rule "as quickly as possible."

"Since [the rule was sent to OIRA], OSHA has been working with OIRA to address complex issues related to the costs, benefits and economic impact analyses," the spokesperson said. "This has required extensive new analyses by OSHA and additional review by OIRA."