Thought Leadership

White House no friend of OSHA?

November 28, 2012

Posted originally at The Pump Handle, Nov. 20, 2012

The Pump Handle is a public health, regulatory, occupational safety and health, mining, and environmental blog.

Shortly after taking office, the head of the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) acknowledged the troubling slow pace at which new worker safety regulations are put in place. 

In a February 2010 speech, David Michaels, PhD, MPH said: "Some standards have taken more than a decade to establish, and that's not an acceptable response when workers are in danger."

In a March 2010 speech the OSHA chief added:  "Clearly the current system for issuing standards doesn't work well for those it's supposed to benefit - workers.  When rulemaking takes years and even decades, and when enormous resources required of a new standard mean we can only develop a few at a time, you know something is seriously wrong."

Many in the public health and workers' rights community agree with Dr. Michaels' assessment.  The trouble is, nothing has been done to address the problem, and the Obama Administration seems to be making it worse.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued seven months ago identified some of the potential choke points in the OSHA rulemaking process. 

Largely missing from the report, however, was a discussion about delays caused within the Executive Branch itself, specifically in the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  

My colleague Rena Steinzor calls OIRA the place where health protective regulations go to be watered down or killed.  OIRA is technically the office where proposed and final regulations are reviewed, pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 12866  and EO 13563, and ultimately get a thumbs up or down by White House staff.

These White House reviews are supposed to take 90 days. 

But for some worker safety rules, OIRA has extended their review for more than 300 or 400 days.  That's what I mean when I say the Obama Administration seems to be making things worse.



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