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Congress’s Latest Attack on Public Protections Would Endanger Workers

If you’ve watched Samantha Bee recently, you already know that Republicans in Congress are working with President Trump to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to undo a wide range of commonsense Obama administration rules.  The CRA allows Congress to override recently issued rules as long as the president does not veto its actions.  In addition, the CRA blocks agencies from issuing “substantially similar” rules without express authorization from Congress. This means that once these protections are repealed, we won’t get them back any time soon.  As Bee explained, the CRA basically says, “Yoinked your regs. No backsies. Sucks to be you.”

The effect on the American public will be devastating.  The rules that Congress has repealed or threatened to repeal would help to keep our water supply clean, protect our workplaces, and conserve our wildlife.

The latest Republican-backed CRA challenge that Congress will consider is H.J. Res. 83, a measure introduced by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) to undo the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) “Volks rule.”  The rule simply clarifies an employer’s ongoing obligation to maintain records of an occupational injury or illness for five years. OSHA had been holding employers accountable to this standard for the past 40 years.  However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned this decades-long precedent in the 2012 case AKM LLC (Volks) v. Secretary of Labor, greatly hindering OSHA’s ability to cite employers for recordkeeping violations.  In response, OSHA issued the Volks rule on December 19, 2016 to reaffirm its procedures in advance of any other federal courts reviewing OSHA’s recordkeeping regulations.

Rep. Byrne contends that the Volks rule is unlawful power grab and scolds OSHA for focusing its enforcement efforts on “paperwork errors that occurred five years ago.” But maintaining accurate injury and illness records is more than just “burdensome paperwork” for employers – these records are vital for protecting workers from dangerous conditions at work. By inspecting accurate data from employer records, OSHA can use its limited resources to identify and target the hazards putting workers at the greatest risk.  Likewise, employers can use the records to proactively keep their own worksites safe. If employers do not keep accurate injury logs, working people will continue to suffer preventable fatalities and injuries on the job.

Instead of going “hog wild” repealing basic public safeguards, Congress should use its authority to support OSHA’s efforts to improve workplaces across the country. As Congress considers this new attack on safe workplaces, workers and their advocates should call their representatives at (202) 224-3121 and make their voices heard.

For up-to-date information about this rule and other public protections subject to repeal under the CRA, visit RulesAtRisk.org.

Emily Gardner is the worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.