OSHA’s standard-setting process is “limping along,” the agency’s chief, Charles Jeffress, warned his audience at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exhibition, held in Orlando this past May.

“We're hobbled by inadequate resources, a litigious society and a lack of consensus among labor and management on the need for new regulations,” Jeffress explained.

OSHA can issue only two or three major rulemakings each year, “if we are lucky,” said Jeffress. He said it’s impossible to keep up with the complexity of modern work with the agency’s current resources.

The agency puts about five percent of its budget to standard-setting — $15 million. About 100 staffers spend half their time developing new standards and half their time interpreting and responding to questions about existing standards.

In contrast, EPA devotes 40 percent of its resources to standard-setting, said Jeffress, adding that EPA has ten times the staff and 20 times the budget that OSHA does.

“A serious question for OSHA's future is whether or not to dedicate more of the agency's resources to standard-setting,” he said.

Jeffress detailed other standards stumbling blocks in Washington:

  • Too many trade and business groups don’t trust OSHA and have “never met a regulation they liked. The nay-sayers in the business community are drowning out those of you who would like to engage in how to write standards well.”
  • “As long as the only voices heard on Capitol Hill from the business community are those who want to stop OSHA, progress will be difficult.” Corporate voices need to speak up loud in support.
  • “Incredible” documentation is required for an OSHA standard. Supporting explanations and analyses for the ergo proposal run more than 1,000 pages. “We have to develop the legal analysis to weather inevitable court challenges. The more analysis, the more time for each rulemaking.”
  • In recent years, Congress has imposed new rules that tend to make rulemaking more difficult and complicated rather than more expeditious

Jeffress was not optimistic about solutions. “Short of NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) and the AFL-CIO storming the Hill hand-in-hand,” it’s difficult to see Congress passing legislation that changes the way OSHA establishes rules, he said.

“We must overcome the adversarial climate, and we may need to convince the Congress that we need modifications to streamline the way OSHA sets standards. That's going to be a tough sales job,” said Jeffress.