The Occupational Safety and Health Administration''s (OSHA) standard-setting process is not working as intended in the 1970 law that established the nation''s top job safety agency, according to a recent report by the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH).
The report calls on OSHA to make a number of specific changes in the way it produces standards, but the committee also cited many obstacles to OSHA rulemaking that lie outside the agency''s control. The committee, composed of representatives from industry, labor and the public sector, approved the final report unanimously at its June 6 meeting in Washington, D.C.
Over the 30 years of OSHA''s existence, the pace of rulemaking has diminished, according to the NACOSH report, despite evidence that new standards have cut down on workplace deaths, injuries and illnesses. It now takes 10 years to develop the average standard, partly because of several layers of review not foreseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
The committee spent two years studying the issue and consulted with rulemaking experts at OSHA and other federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Transportation.
The report states that EPA and FDA have been more successful than OSHA in setting standards, in part, because these agencies have won widespread public support and additional resources for their regulatory agenda. NACOSH member Mike Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers of America, stated in the report that "EPA had literally 80 times the resources devoted to rulemaking than OSHA had."
The report criticizes OSHA for internal management weaknesses and for failing to work "synergistically" with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to address "the anti-regulatory environment that exists."
Business interests are often seen as responsible for holding up OSHA rulemaking, but both management representatives on NACOSH voted for the report. One is Dennis Scullion, president of Scullion & Associates, a Plano, Texas, consulting firm.
"From a business perspective, speed [of new regulations] is important," he said. "You''re spending a lot of time and effort providing input on new rules, and that''s costing money."
Scullion cited permissible exposure limits and safety and health programs as two critical areas that need to be addressed by new standards. He said OSHA was "very involved" in the development of the NACOSH report and did much of the legwork needed to gather the information.
Scullion pointed to the broad base of information that was used to support the panel''s conclusions and said that what is needed is for OSHA to develop an action plan that addresses the report''s recommendations on how to speed up the development of new standards.
"I think it''s something everybody agrees needs to be improved," he said.
by James L. Nash