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OSHA's reg agenda notable for what's missing (12/8)

Acting OSHA boss Jordan Barab said yesterday the focus on the agency’s updated regulatory agenda, released yesterday, is on taking care of rulemaking initiatives that are old and in the way, causing gridlock and preventing OSHA from beginning to track bigger and more controversial regulatory game.

This strategy makes senses both administratively and politically. Agenda items such as crane and derrick safety; exposures to silica, beryllium, and methyline chloride; walking/working surfaces; and electrical power transmission safety have stagnated in the standards-setting office for years and must be dealt with.

Taking care of this kind of administrative housekeeping also gives the new OSHA chief, Dr. David Michaels, and his leadership team breathing room to carefully consider how to address politically hot issues such as ergonomics, updating hundreds of permissible exposure limits (PELs), and setting basic mandates for workplace injury and illness prevention programs.

Both Barab and his boss, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, repeatedly asserted in live chat webinars yesterday that OSHA has not current plans for having another go at setting an ergo standard. This is a retreat from Barab’s bold comment made earlier this year at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ meeting that it’s time for OSHA to pick up the political football that is ergonomics and run with it, resistance be damned.

Meanwhile, there was no mention on the reg agenda of workplace injury and illness prevention program requirements, one of Dr. Michaels’s stated priorities for OSHA. It’s simply too early in the Obama era at OSHA to take on that comprehensive issue, sure to impact small businesses and cause a political firestorm.

The same goes for updating the PELs. “While the agency has not made a determination about how to proceed at this time, we continue to look at strategies that protect workers from chemical hazards,” was as close as Barab came yesterday to touching the legal complications of justifying new PELs.

“These are very important and complex issues,” said Barab, referring to ergonomics, injury/illness prevention plans, and updating PELs. And he left it at that.

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