DOL Wants Consistent Procedures for Agency Risk Assessments

The U.S. Department of Labor has published a proposal in the Federal Register to establish consistent procedures to allow the public to see exactly what goes into agency risk assessments.

The proposal, which can be viewed at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-20179.htm, will ensure that the best and latest available evidence and scientific data are used when conducting risk assessments for health standards regulating occupational exposure to toxins in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.

This proposal only impacts internal agency procedures and imposes no additional regulation on stakeholders. Although not required, the department is nonetheless seeking public input on the proposal for 30 days.

This proposal only impacts internal agency procedures and imposes no additional regulation on stakeholders. Although not required, the department is nonetheless seeking public input on the proposal for 30 days.

Currently, the department does not have comprehensive regulations or formal internal guidance outlining consistent risk assessment procedures. The proposed regulation implements recommendations of a 1997 presidential/congressional commission that criticized the department for relying on “a case-by-case approach for performing risk assessment and risk characterization,” and recommended that the department explain its scientific and policy defaults with regard to risk assessment.

The proposal will compile the Labor Department's existing practices into a single, easy to reference public regulation and includes:

  • Issuance of an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in order to cast a wide net for available information from the public.
  • Collection of the best available scientific data for the agency to consider, including industry-by-industry exposure data where available.
  • Electronic posting of all documents related to a health standard rulemaking to promote greater public input, awareness and transparency of the information underlying the department’s health rulemakings.

The proposal gives the department’s scientists and technical experts the necessary latitude to exercise their professional discretion and to modify their assessments as science evolves, while ensuring that the department's process is fully accountable and transparent to the public.

The ANPRM process is not new. OSHA has included an ANPRM in the last three health standards it promulgated, including two that were started more than 20 years ago. This process ensures that those responsible for drafting the standard have the best available scientific information to produce a thorough and accurate risk assessment that effectively protects workers.

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