OSHA recently published its Spring 2015 Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda. The agenda contains more than two-dozen standards initiatives in various phases of development. Since it takes years for the agency to move a standard through all the phases and approval processes, the reg agenda is always something of a wish list. Most items will never see publication as a final rule in the Federal Register.
But it’s interesting to note the standards that are either in the pre-rule stage, or the long-term issues stage. Here you find some of the potentially most impactful (and costly and controversial) rules OSHA could ever promulgate.
For instance, remember all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2)? Whatever happened to that rule, which early on in the first Obama term was OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels number one priority? Well, you now find it in the long-term issues category.
OSHA’s long-term issues are all important, but they reside in limbo land. There are no specifics given on future action steps. And when the guard is changed in 2016 and a new administration comes along, be it Democrat or Republican, the slate is wiped clean and OSHA’s new leaders are free to strategize their own long-term plans.
For now, though, here are the other issues listed as long-term projects: recording and reporting musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) requirements (critics say this is the back door to an ergo standard); infectious diseases, preventing backover injuries and fatalities, and updating the hazcom standard.
At the opposite end of the reg agenda spectrum are standards listed in the embryonic “prerule stage.” Chances of these proposals making it all the way through the standards-setting pipeline are about as slim as the long-term issues being acted upon. In Spring 2015, OSHA’s prerule standards include: bloodborne pathogens, combustible dust (critics content this would be an impossible standard to set due to its scope), chemical management and permissible exposure limits (which have resisted any and all attempts at updating for 45 years in most cases), process safety management and prevention of major chemical accidents, communications tower safety, and emergency response and preparedness.
Bottom line: Most of OSHA’s most ambitious standards ideas are also the ones least likely to move forward.
Keep your eye out for standards on silica, beryllium, walking and working surfaces, and clarifications to injury and illness recordkeeping requirements as being the best bets to be issued as final regs before the end of 2016.
And if the Dems lose the White House next year, stay tuned for a possible post-election surge in standards large and small. The Clinton administration issued the ergonomics standard after VP Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000. It’s a time-honored midnight hour maneuver by the outgoing OSHA team, and in the past midnight regs are almost always pulled back by the incoming team.