House Demands “A Responsible Regulatory Environment,” OSHA Lobbies for Jobs and Safety

Rep. John Kline (R, Minn.), in a hearing Oct. 5 before the Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, made it clear that Congress believes the fewer regulations coming out of OSHA the better, even if it means putting a stop to the proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program standard, halting the addition of a column for musculoskeletal disorders on the OSHA 300 Log and offering no new regulatory action on silica or fall protection for roofers.

According to Kline and Subcommittee Chair Tim Walberg (R, Mich.), these and other proposed OSHA standards are “job-killing” regulations. “As great a challenge workplace safety is for an agency staffed with sharp policy minds, imagine how much greater it is for an employer who lacks the resources needed to fully grasp the complexities of federal safety standards,” said Walberg in his opening statement.

Added Walberg, “The underlying fear is the uncertainty surrounding much of the administration’s regulatory actions. As I noted earlier, these are difficult issues to address and they take time to get right. But we must not ignore the employers who are sitting on the sidelines, questioning the future cost of doing business, reluctant to hire new workers.”

Rep Timothy Bishop (D, N.Y.) disputed the opinion of his colleagues, noting that a recent article stated that in 2008, only four-tenths of 1 percent of employers claimed that regulations were the reason they were not hiring additional employees. In subsequent years, even fewer numbers of employers – two-tenths of 1 percent – stated regulations kept them from hiring, while “lack of demand” was listed as a top reason why employers were reducing work forces or holding off on hiring. These numbers, said Bishop, clearly show that federal regulations are not job killers.

In testimony, Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels, said “There’s always accusations that OSHA regulations will cost jobs… We know that OSHA regulations don’t kill jobs, they stop jobs from killing workers.”

In his testimony, Michaels reminded the committee that 12 workers are killed on the job every day, tens of thousands of workers are estimated to die every year from work-related disease and over 3 million workers are seriously injured each year. “Far too many of these injuries end up destroying a family’s middle-class security,” said Michaels. “Workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities take an enormous toll on this nation’s economy – a toll that is barely affordable in good times, but is intolerable in difficult economic times such as we are experiencing today.”

Walberg acknowledged that some employers cut corners and place workers in harm’s way, but he countered that most employers want to do the right thing. “Most employers want to safeguard the health and well-being of their workers while providing a livelihood for their families. They know more intimately the hazards and risks associated with their businesses, and they should be our partners in safety,” said Walberg.

In the opinion of Walberg and the other Republican members of the subcommittee, OSHA is not taking the concerns of small business owners into consideration when promulgating regulations and, according to some legislators, either is not seeking public input to regulations or is not listening when the input is received.

Not true, said Michaels. “[OSHA] enthusiastically welcome(s) public input. OSHA’s first priority is to issue standards that protect workers. But it makes absolutely no sense to issue standards that don’t work or that don’t make sense to businesses and workers in a real workplace. Getting input from workers and businesses, based on their experience, about what works and what doesn’t work is not only essential to issuing good, common sense rules, but also welcomed by this agency.”

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