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 electronically to analyze or post the information online, and instead, employers would just go back to maintaining a file of paper logs at their worksites.

Just as important as the activities on OSHA’s agenda are those that it has delayed indefinitely or wholly abandoned. The agency's list of long-term actions – those delayed until some future undetermined time – has doubled in size. Among the items added to this regrettable list is a comprehensive emergency response and preparedness standard to protect emergency responders from the many health and safety hazards they face, and an infectious diseases standard to protect workers in the health care industry and similar high-risk industries from exposure to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, pandemic flu, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). OSHA’s agenda also abandons work on over a dozen items, including the agency’s years-long efforts to develop a combustible dust standard, which would help protect industrial workers from deadly fires and explosions, and a standard to prevent backover injuries and fatalities. OSHA has also canceled its plans to develop limits on occupational exposure to the organic solvent 1-bromopropane and the industrial chemical styrene, both of which cause neurological damage and may cause cancer. 

OSHA’s agenda makes clear that it has strayed far off course. The agency is tasked with ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for all workers across the country, but the plans announced last week would have the opposite effect. Every day, an average of 13 workers die on the job, 137 workers’ lives are cut short due to occupational illnesses, and hundreds more suffer serious work-related injuries. But rather than protect America’s workforce, Trump and Labor Secretary Acosta seem keen on placing them in greater danger than before. Add to this the cumulative harm caused by enforcement cuts, potential repeal of health care, and the many other efforts to undermine our nation’s social safety net, and workers are likely in for a world of hurt under this administration.

Here's a complete list of regulatory and deregulatory actions from OSHA’s 2017 Update:

OSHA RULES IN PLAY
Rule Name Summary of OSHA’s Plans
Occupational Exposure to Beryllium OSHA will push forward its newly proposed rule to amend its standard limiting worker exposure to beryllium (finalized on Jan. 9, 2017) to ease requirements on the construction and maritime industries.
Standards Improvement Project IV OSHA will move to finalize a rule it proposed in 2016 to update several existing standards and paperwork requirements identified as unnecessary or duplicative.
Communication Tower Safety OSHA is delaying the date by which it intends to initiate a small business review panel to consider regulatory approaches the agency ought to take to address the higher-than-average fatality rate among workers in the communication tower industry. Note: OSHA has removed language from its previous agenda entry indicating it would seek to revise the existing standard.
Quantitative Fit Testing Protocol: Amendment to the Final Rule on Respiratory Protection OSHA is delaying by four months its expected date for completing its review of comments submitted on a 2016 proposed rule that would amend the agency's 1998 respiratory standard to incorporate new fit test protocols.
Crane Operator Qualification in Construction OSHA is delaying by four months its expected date for proposing a rule specifying what criteria employers use to determine if operators are qualified to safely operate cranes on construction sites.
Mechanical Power Press Update OSHA is delaying by one year its expected date for requesting information from the public about how it should proceed with updating its mechanical power presses standard to address the use of hydraulic or pneumatic power presses and other technological changes over the past 40 years.
Powered Industrial Trucks OSHA is delaying by one year its expected date for requesting information from the public about how it should proceed with updating its outdated standard on powered industrial trucks.
Lockout/Tagout Update OSHA is delaying by one year and four months its expected date for requesting information from the public about recent technological advancements employing computer-based controls of hazardous energy that conflict with the existing lock-out/ tag-out standard. OSHA is also considering hosting a stakeholder meeting and comment period instead of proceeding with a request of information.
Cranes and Derricks in Construction: Exemption Expansions for Railroad Roadway Work OSHA is delaying by ten months its expected date for proposing revisions to its Cranes and Derricks in Construction standard to expand the exemptions for railroad roadway work as required by a settlement agreement reached in Sept. 2014.
Blood Lead Level for Medical Removal OSHA is delaying by one year and two months its expected date for issuing an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on strengthening the existing lead standard by lowering the blood lead level at which an employee may be returned to a former job.
Technical Corrections to 16 OSHA Standards OSHA is delaying by seven months its expected date for making technical corrections to sixteen OSHA standards.
Puerto Rico State Plan OSHA is delaying by seven months its expected date for proposing a rule to allow Puerto Rico to operate a state plan.
Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses (Entry 1) and (Entry 2) OSHA is pushing forward its proposed rule to delay the initial date for employers to report workplace injuries and illnesses under the 2016 final rule to improve tracking of injuries and illnesses. In a separate action, OSHA is also considering amending or removing provisions of the 2016 final rule.
LONG-TERM ACTIONS
Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Recordkeeping Requirements--Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) Column OSHA will continue its indefinite delay of work it began in 2009 to restore the MSD column to the OSHA 300 log so that employers and workers can better track these injuries and the agency can collect better statistical data.
Infectious Diseases OSHA is delaying indefinitely, after almost a decade of development, its plans to issue a standard that requires employers in the health care and similarly high-risk industries to establish a comprehensive infection control program and control measures to protect workers from infectious disease.
Amendments to Cranes and Derricks in Construction Standard OSHA is delaying indefinitely its plans to make corrections and other clarifications to its 2010 final standard on cranes and derricks in construction.
Process Safety Management and Prevention of Major Chemical Accidents OSHA will continue its indefinite delay of work it began in 2013 to modernize its process safety management standard to prevent major chemical disasters.
Shipyard Fall Protection--Scaffolds, Ladders, and Other Working Surfaces OSHA is delaying indefinitely work it began in 2013 to determine its options for updating its existing standard on shipyard fall protection to provide more comprehensive coverage and to reflect technological developments.
Emergency Response and Preparedness OSHA is delaying indefinitely, after almost a decade of development, its plans to issue a comprehensive standard to address significant hazards to emergency response workers. 
Update to the Hazard Communication Standard OSHA is delaying indefinitely its plans to update the agency's hazard communication standard to maintain alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification of Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) and other countries that have adopted the GHS.
Rules of Agency Practice and Procedure Concerning OSHA Access to Employee Medical Records OSHA will continue its indefinite delay of its plan to update and make more efficient its internal procedures on obtaining and using personally identifiable employee medical information.
Tree Care Standard OSHA is delaying indefinitely its work to develop a standard for tree care operations, which it began in response to an industry petition it granted in 2008.
Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare OSHA is delaying indefinitely its plan to develop a standard to prevent workplace violence in healthcare, which it initiated in response to union petitions it granted on Jan. 10, 2017.
PLANS CANCELLED
Bloodborne Pathogens- Section 610 Review OSHA is permanently canceling its plan, pending since the Bush administration, to review the existing bloodborne pathogens standard to determine if it should be updated to better protect workers, or alternatively if those rules are no longer necessary.
Combustible Dust OSHA is permanently canceling its plan, after a decade of work, to develop a comprehensive standard to protect workers from combustible dust hazards in general industry.
Injury and Illness Prevention Program OSHA is permanently canceling its plan, which it had previously put on hold indefinitely, to develop a rule requiring employers to implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program.
Preventing Backover Injuries and Fatalities OSHA is permanently canceling its plan, after almost a decade of work, to develop a standard to prevent struck-by and caught-between injuries and fatalities when backing up vehicles and equipment.
Chemical Management and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) OSHA is permanently canceling its plan, which it had previously put on hold indefinitely, to assess its options for addressing occupational illnesses caused by exposure to toxic chemicals given that many of agency's chemical standards are obsolete.
Clarification of Employer's Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain Accurate Records of Each Recordable Injury and Illness As a housekeeping measure, OSHA is removing this entry from the agenda because the rule was finalized by the Obama administration and then blocked from taking effect by a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act.
Revocation of Obsolete Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) OSHA is permanently canceling its plan to revoke a number of obsolete chemical exposure limits below which significant health risks still exist and to use its other enforcement tools, like the general duty clause, to address toxic exposures.
Eliminating Requirements for Employee Social Security Numbers in OSHA Standards As a housekeeping measure, OSHA is removing this entry from the agenda because this action is included as part of the Standards Improvement Project IV entry.
Subpart Q Update OSHA is permanently canceling its plan to review its regulations on welding to determine if those the rules should be updated to better protect workers from physical and chemical hazards, or alternatively if those rules are no longer necessary.
1-Bromopropane (1-BP) Standard OSHA is permanently canceling its plan to request information from the public and explore whether to develop a standard to limit occupational exposure to 1-bromopropane, an organic solvent that can cause neurological illness and is reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.
Noise in Construction OSHA is permanently canceling its plan to evaluate new studies and information on hearing loss among construction workers and explore whether to revise its existing standards to better protect workers.
Occupational Exposure to Styrene OSHA is permanently canceling its plan to evaluate new studies and information and explore whether to develop a standard to limit occupational to styrene, an industrial chemical that adversely affects the nervous system and is reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.
Updating Requirements for the Selection, Fit Testing, and Use of Hearing Protection Devices OSHA is permanently canceling its plan to update and harmonize it's outdated requirements on the use of hearing protection devices in general industry and construction.

 


 

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Also from Katie Tracy

Katie Tracy, J.D., joined CPR as a workers’ rights policy analyst in May 2015. Her previous experience includes working for more than two years as a regulatory policy analyst at the Center for Effective Government, where she advocated for strong regulations to protect health, safety, and the environment.

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