Jeffress: Standards Setting Process Must Change

May 24, 2000
Frustration with the slow pace of rulemaking marked a major\r\naddress by OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress at the American\r\nIndustrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHCE).

Frustration with the slow pace of rulemaking marked a major address by OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHCE). Jeffress used his May 23 plenary speech to argue that mistrust between OSHA and industry slows the setting of new standards and is at the root of the current ergonomics debate.

"The system is overloaded," said Jeffress of the current rulemaking process. "It needs major changes."

But despite his unhappiness with the current system, Jeffress stated the agency still expects to promulgate five final rules this year: ergonomics, recordkeeping, tuberculosis, who pays for personal protective equipment, and steel erection.

The head of OSHA asserted that his agency has done what it can to speed up the process, such as using teams that take responsibility for a new rule from start to finish,

But according to Jeffress this is not enough.

"We can address only a few major rulemakings, while hundreds of smaller things that also need doing are being left undone," he said.

Jeffress listed the major obstacles he believes prevent his agency from keeping up with the increasing pace of change in the modern workplace.

Topping the list is the fact that OSHA spends only five per cent of its budget, or $15 million, on setting standards. EPA, by comparison, spends 40 per cent of its far larger budget on rulemaking.

A second problem is what Jeffress called the lack of a "climate of collegiality" that is needed to develop new standards.

He cited the current ergonomics debate as an example of how the mutual mistrust between OSHA and industry has made rulemaking more difficult.

"The debate is not over the science," Jeffress argued. The real debate is whether the government will apply reasonable judgment in enforcing what ever standard is adopted.

"Can you trust us to be reasonable?" Jeffress asked. "Can we trust you to act in good faith to correct the hazards you have? That''s really the fundamental question facing us in the ergonomics debate."

by Jim Nash

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