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Safety advocacy group asks: Where’s the burgeoning cost of regulations?

January 17, 2013

CongressThe Washington Post’s Wonk Blog has a piece this week on the burgeoning costs of regulations.

WaPo’s Jim Tankersley writes: “If you’re a business leader or conservative economist who worries that the federal government is strangling the economy in red tape, 2012 was a banner year. If you’re a consumer advocate or an environmentalist anxious for the government to do more to boost public health … ditto.”

Tankersley went on to cite a new report from the conservative American Action Forum, which said that the federal government imposed an estimated $216 billion in regulatory costs on the economy last year. The regulations put nearly 87 million hours of paperwork burdens on the economy, or the equivalent of a year’s work for some 43,000 full-time employees, the report estimates.

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (NCOSH), a coalition of grassroots occupational safety and health organizations, counters that the AFL-CIO’s latest “Death on the Job” report calculates that 4,690 workers were killed on the job in 2010 — an average of 13 workers every day — and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. Workers suffer an additional 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each year.

The price tag for all of these job injuries and illnesses? Approximately $250 billion to $300 billion a year — and it wasn’t negligent employers picking up the tab.

For all the talk on how regulations are bankrupting small businesses, it would be helpful to look at the protections passed in recent years to ensure that workers are safe on the job. “Oh, wait. None have made it through the pipeline,” says Dorry Samuels of the NCOSH.

A standard that would protect American workers from exposure to silica on the job has been stalled for more than 15 years, says Samuels. Currently, the silica standard sits dormant at the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where it’s been under review for more than 15 months instead of the 90 days allowed by executive order, according to Samuels. 

 An injury and illness prevention program (I2P2), which would help employers find and fix workplace hazards before workers are hurt, has failed to be enacted by federal OSHA, states Samuels.

And just last year, under pressure from the powerful agribusiness lobby, the Obama administration withdrew a proposal that would have restricted child workers from the most dangerous tasks in agriculture, according to Samuels.

Concludes Samuels: “So, to the critics who say that workplace safety regulations have stymied the political process and overwhelmed the national budget, we must ask: Where?”