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Why we’ll see no more standards from OSHA

October 31, 2012
KEYWORDS farm / OSHA / proposal / regs / teenagers
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silosFor some time now I have contended we are, and have been for probably 10-15 years, in the post-OSHA era. Remember Al Gore’s attempt to “reinvent” OSHA to be more “customer friendly”? Specifically I am referring to OSHA standards-setting.

Yesterday (October 29) The New York Times ran a front-page, very lengthy piece on grain silo entrapments. Since 2007, 80 farm workers have died in silo accidents; 14 were teenage boys, according to the article. Nearly 20% of all serious grain bin accidents involve workers under the age of 20. 70% of these deaths occur on family farms and small operations.

Last year, the Labor Department proposed new regs to strengthen protections for children doing farm work. The proposal would have prohibited children under 18 from working in large commercial grain bins, silos, or other enclosed spaces.

As the Times reported, reaction to the proposal was swift, intense and politically-charged, as is usually the case with OSHA proposed standards.

Thousands of farmers wrote in protest, even though the regs that exempted small family farms remained in the new proposal.

The Times reported that members of both parties in Congress demanded that the proposal be killed in their entirety. Democratic senators facing tight races in farm states such as Montana, Michigan and Missouri, complained directly to the White House.

Bipartisan groups in both chambers of Congress introduced legislation that would have overturned the proposals if they were finalized.

The White House did nothing to defend its own Labor Department. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was ordered to kill the proposals, Obama administration and Labor Department officials told the Times.

The explanation: the Obama administration is very sensitive to charges that it is choking the economy with expensive regs.

Do you think this “business case” against safety and health regs will change any time soon? No way.

If a so-called small, niche safety reg that would apply to only 13,000 firms is attacked with such ferocity, what do you think happens if OSHA proposes a standard like the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2), that would cover almost every industry?

Of course, as is often the case, regulators over-reached with the grain entrapment proposals, doing themselves no favors. Also included in the proposals were requirements prohibiting teenagers from herding livestock, driving large farm vehicles, and setting new limits on the height of ladders teenagers could climb and the size of trees teenagers could cut. Welcome back to the OSHA of the 1970s.

Even if regulators smarten up, or some of their aims are eliminated between the proposal stage and final rulemaking, we live in the U.S. in a climate where any regulation proposed that drains businesses of any time and resources will never see the light of day. No matter who wins the election next Tuesday.

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