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OSHA chief Michaels: "One could write a book about the hazards that OSHA has failed to regulate adequately." (1/14)

January 14, 2010
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New OSHA boss Dr. David Michaels, an epidemiologist and former professor in the George Washington University Department of Environment and Occupational Health, has had little time to make his views known of OSHA issues of the day.

But Dr. Michaels has left a substantial paper trail of journal articles, opinion essays, and Congressional testimony that offer insights into where he plans to invest his time and energy at OSHA.

In 2007, Dr. Michaels testified before Subcommittee on Employment & Workplace Safety of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions in a presentation provocatively titled, “Is OSHA Working for Working People?”

It is in this testimony that Dr. Michaels make the remark, “One could write a book about the hazards that OSHA has failed to regulate adequately.”

Here are highlights of Dr. Michaels’ critique of OSHA:

  • ”OSHA enforcement does not appear to be effective in further reducing injury rates. While BLS reports a decrease in injury rates, sophisticated statistical analyses indicate that most of this decrease can be attributable to changes in OSHA recordkeeping rules.”

  • ”Many of (OSHA’s) exposure limits were already out of date in 1970, when OSHA adopted them. Moreover, these are not comprehensive standards with requirements for employers to conduct exposure monitoring, provide medical surveillance or worker training, but only exposure limits. As a result, for most hazardous chemicals, OSHA’s standards are either inadequate or totally absent.”

  • ”This Senate committee has asked, ‘is OSHA working for working people?’ My response is that, when you look at the situation with working men and women and ergonomic hazards, the answer is NO. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are by far the leading cause of workplace injuries, yet there is no OSHA standard to protect workers from the hazard of poorly-designed work settings.”

  • “The primary blame (for OSHA’s failure to keep current with health hazards) rests in a system that makes OSHA standard setting inordinately difficult and resource-intensive. There are numerous barriers to standard setting, including congressionally imposed special reviews by “small” business employers, OMB imposed regulatory reviews, and increasing demands for detailed economic analyses.”

  • ”I strongly believe that to better protect American workers from workplace hazards, OSHA needs to move away from hazard-specific standard setting.”

  • “OSHA has abandoned the general duty clause. It is time for the agency to start using it again.”

  • “OSHA’s first priority should be to issue a Comprehensive Workplace Safety and Health Program Standard.”

    “Each firm would be required to survey its facilities for the presence of hazards, both real and potential. Based on this survey, the managers would develop a plan that addresses all hazards ─ from digging trenches safely to limiting chemical spills, from having well-marked unlocked exits to educating all workers about the risks of their jobs. Does this sound utopian? Thousands of responsible employers would be in full compliance immediately, since this is how they already operate.

    “Under the new system, each employer’s plan would be public, available to workers and community residents to examine and critique. It would be certified by the government, state or federal, depending on the details — or perhaps certification could fall to private sector organizations (like insurance carriers) that would bear some of the risk if a plan were found to be inadequate.”

    Every employer’s public health/hazard abatement plan would be signed off by the corporation’s CEO (call it “Sarbanes-Oxley for Safety and Health”).

  • ”Congress should mandate OSHA issue certain health standards. The chromium standard shows that external deadlines are effective in overcoming barriers to regulatory action and agency inertia. Without reopening the OSH Act, Congress could step in using the appropriations process, for example, to require OSHA to issue the standards on beryllium and silica, which OSHA staff have been working on for years, along with any other standards that are partially completed.”

  • ”Congress should authorize OSHA to adopt the current Threshold Limit Values List. It is time for Congress to require OSHA to again adopt the recommendations of voluntary organizations like ACGIH, with the same conditions set forth in the original OSH Act.”

  • ”My answer to the question posed in this hearing, “Is OSHA Working for Working People?” is no. Sadly, it is not fulfilling this promise.”

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