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Oct. 5, 2011

New Report Shows That OSHA Has Been Prevented From Issuing Lifesaving Rules

Congress, Presidents, U.S. Supreme Court Have Obstructed Regulatory Process

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has produced regulations in the past decade at a far slower rate than ever before, postponing rules that would have prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries, more than 10,000 cases of illness and hundreds of fatalities, a new Public Citizen report shows. Today, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, part of the Education and the Workforce Committee, is holding a hearing on a proposed appropriations bill that would further thwart OSHA’s rulemaking abilities.

The report, “OSHA Inaction,” found that since 2001, OSHA has produced just one new health or safety standard every 2.5 years. Previously, the agency produced an average of 2.6 rules per year, the report found. Individual OSHA regulations have been delayed for as long as 31 years, and the agency has been unable to address a wide array of common workplace hazards. Presidential administrations, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have all had a hand in slowing down the rulemaking process.

“The requirements on OSHA have nearly paralyzed the agency,” said Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate with Public Citizen and author of the report. “As a result, OSHA cannot adequately protect workers from toxic chemicals, heat stress, repetitive use injuries, workplace violence and many other occupational dangers. Inadequate regulation imposes tremendous costs on workers, who may be forced to pay with their health or even their lives.”

The slow rulemaking process has failed to keep pace with the growing number of known hazards in American workplaces. Besides the harms caused by delays in creating needed rules, OSHA has been unable to even attempt to address many other risks. For example, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has identified 682 toxic chemicals to which workers are exposed. OSHA has no existing regulation for 244 of these chemicals, meaning workers can be exposed to them at any level. For another 196 chemicals, OSHA’s standards offer less protection than NIOSH recommends. OSHA has regulated only two chemicals since 1997; industry, meanwhile, develops two new chemicals every day.

The report comes as Big Business representatives and their allies in Congress have made regulations the scapegoat for the moribund economy while also ignoring their public safety benefits. Public Citizen calls on Congress to take a fair look at the benefits of health and safety safeguards in the workplace, and to allow OSHA to do its job.
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