Is OSHA Out of the Worker Protection Business?

by Katie Tracy

July 24, 2017

When President Trump released his spring Unified Agenda last week, he made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in protecting workers from occupational injuries and diseases. The White House released the agenda amid what it called “Made in America” week, but instead of recognizing workers and advocating for safe and healthy jobs and fair wages, Trump brought manufacturers to the nation’s capital to show off their products. When it comes to working families, Trump is ignoring what should be his highest priority – ensuring that every person who leaves home for a job in the morning returns at the end of the day without injury or illness.

The regulatory agenda for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is devoid of any plans that would address the litany of significant health and safety hazards workers face on a daily basis. Rather, OSHA has cut down the size of its agenda by more than half, from 30 items to a mere 14. Eleven of the agency’s fourteen planned activities relate to work it will carry over from the Obama administration. However, what may be mistaken for progress at first glance is anything but. All but one action does nothing more than extend the date by which the agency expects to complete previously planned activities. The remaining rule – the only rule that OSHA plans to finalize in the near term – is a proposal issued in 2016 to revise a handful of existing standards to remove unnecessary or duplicative provisions or paperwork requirements.

The three new items on OSHA’s latest agenda seek to weaken two recently finalized Obama-era rules. Specifically, OSHA plans to move ahead with its recently proposed revision to the beryllium standard finalized on January 9, 2017. OSHA estimates that the beryllium standard will save 90 workers' lives and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease every year. President Trump has proposed revisions to the standard to ease requirements on the construction and maritime industries. Although Trump’s proposal would leave in place the permissible exposure level (PEL) set in the final rule, it would eliminate the ancillary provisions applicable to these two industries, needlessly putting workers back in harm's way.

OSHA also plans to push forward its proposed delay of the compliance date for employers to submit reports of workplace injuries and illnesses electronically under a rule finalized by the Obama administration in 2016. By requiring employers to submit this information electronically, OSHA can analyze the data to improve worker protections and can make it available online for employers, the public, and government. In a related, but separate agenda item, OSHA plans to issue a proposal that revises or removes some provisions of the 2016 electronic reporting rule. Eliminating the rule would mean the agency would not collect the logs ...

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