Government rulemakingOSHA has quietly announced the spring semi-annual regulatory agenda, a compilation of the many issues being undertaken or considered by the agency and a look at when the agency expects action on the issues. This agenda is supposed to be a “blueprint” for the agency to follow when tackling each of the issues; however in recent years the agenda has become something that many consider a complete “wish list” as most of the activity is never concluded on time.

Notwithstanding this fact, it is worthwhile to take a look at the agenda and review the top issues of interest to AIHA and our members. Here’s a look at the spring 2014 semi-annual agenda:

Prerule Stage:

Bloodborne PathogensOSHA hopes to end the review of this standard and issue findings in July. The purpose of the review is to determine if there is a continued need for the rule, whether it overlaps, duplicates or conflicts with other regulations.

Comment: July seems pretty aggressive for the agency to issue the findings but insiders tell me the agency is moving quickly.

Combustible Dust – An issue that has continually been delayed since it was first proposed back in 2009. In the last agenda OSHA proposed to hold the Small Business Peer Review in April of this year. That date came and went and OSHA now says it hopes to initiate the Small Business Review in December of this year.

Comment: I hope this timeline works out but I sure wouldn’t hold my breath over it. The issue is very controversial and with the mid-term elections coming up I’m not sure the agency has the time or support to move forward with this timeline. Guess we will see.

Infectious Diseases – Since the issue came up back in 2010 the agency has been working to determine whether or not a standard is needed. The agenda states OSHA hoped to initiate a Small Business Review in May.

Comment: Well, May is gone so that isn’t going to happen; however let’s hope this issue moves forward. Seems that every few months we hear of another infectious disease that appears and threatens not only health care workers but the community at large. Yes, there may be difficulty in writing a standard but the time has come to seriously move forward on this issue.

Chemical Management and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) – The longstanding issue that until recently had never appeared on the regulatory agenda. Give OSHA credit, the agency recognizes the problem with outdated PELs and is attempting to move forward by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) to gather information on ways to address this problem. The latest on the issue is that the agency has submitted information to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review and is waiting for a response.

Comment: This issue is of the utmost importance to AIHA and many others. While I won’t commit to saying the issue will be addressed anytime soon I am more positive than I have been in years. Just having the administration take an interest in the issue is a move in the right direction. Keep your ears open as I hope to announce some movement in the next few months.

Process Safety Management and Prevention of Major Chemical Accidents – The agenda shows OSHA “analyzing comments” in July. That is pretty accurate. OSHA had issued another RFI on this issue back in 2013 after several chemical accidents; the agency received comments on the issue with the comment period ending in March; and now the agency will analyze the comments. I have no idea however as to how long this will take.

Comment: Again, an issue that needs to be addressed. That doesn’t mean major changes need to take place but the Request for Information was the proper approach.

Emergency Response and Preparedness – OSHA hopes to initiate stakeholder meetings in July to review the many aspects of emergency response and preparedness. Many of the existing standards were enacted years ago and the issue needs to be reviewed.

Comment: Couldn’t agree more! While many may not see this as an important issue I believe it is very important. Here is a chance to become involved in providing input as to the use of occupational health and safety professions in protecting first responders and others.

Proposed Rule Stage:

Occupational Exposure to Silica – The post-hearing comment on this huge and very controversial standard is to end in July. The issue has been around for more than ten years, with the Small Business Review way back in 2003.

Comment: Many were hoping this standard would be quickly enacted. No such luck! While not put in writing, there are many signs that OSHA recognizes the agency will not finish review of all the comments from the Federal Register notice and the public hearings until the end of this year or later. Some OSHA insiders say the plan is to perhaps have a final rule out in 2016 but I wouldn’t be so sure about that. 2016 will be a presidential election year so anything can happen. And court challenges are likely.

Occupational Exposure to Beryllium – What began back in 2002 with an RFI has finally progressed to the point where OSHA hopes to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in July. The issue has been discussed and debated for years but the agency has submitted information to the White House for review.

Comment: I would like to think this is one issue that will meet the deadline. Insiders I talk to say the agency is intent on quickly moving forward whenever the issue is returned from the White House. Don’t be surprised if this issue becomes a top priority for the agency in the next 12 months.

Final Rule Stage:

Confined Spaces in ConstructionHas been around for 11 years and OSHA hopes to issue a final rule in August.

Comment: I must admit, I thought this final rule would be one of the first things issued by the Obama Administration, yet here we are nearly six years later with no movement. I won’t even predict whether or not the August date will hold true.

Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – The “electronic reporting” issue that began back in 2010. OSHA now hopes to issue a final rule by March of 2015.

Comment: On the surface this seems like a “no brainer”, but the devil is in the details. The issue received much more opposition than originally expected. While there are some good things in the proposal there are several issues that will make it very difficult to be enacted.

Long-Term Actions:

Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements – MSD Column – OSHA has placed this issue in the long-term action category after considerable opposition to the proposal back in 2011. No action has taken place since 2011 and none is expected any time soon.

Comment: You can simply write this one off. OSHA will not move forward with this issue at this time. Will it ever come back? Good question, but anything even remotely related to ergonomics will not see the light of day.

Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) – OSHA has now placed this issue in the long-term action category with no date listed for the next step. In other words, OSHA has determined the issue cannot be enacted at this time and has no idea when the agency will move forward.

Comment: I hate to be the bearer of bad news on this issue but the issue is essentially “dead” for the near future. The only way this issue will return is if the Democrats retain control of the White House in 2016, take control of the House of Representatives, and retain control of the Senate; and even then the issue will face an uphill battle.