Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., had a rocky debut Thursday when he presided over his first OSHA hearing as the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.
In a move termed "unquestionably irresponsible and inappropriate" by Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the committee, Norwood allowed testimony from only one side involved in ongoing litigation that challenges threshold limit values (TLVs) set by the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).
Despite the frequent references to the ACGIH controversy, witnesses did often succeed in offering testimony on the flaws and remedies to OSHA''s standard setting process, the stated purpose of the hearings.
Washington, D.C., attorney Henry Chajet, a partner at Patton Boggs, LLP, charged that it was wrong for government industrial hygienists to produce workplace standards "behind closed doors" that then find their way into official OSHA regulations.
"Is something wrong here?" Norwood asked Chajet about the TLV process.
"Something is very wrong here," Chajet replied.
No one representing the ACGIH position in the litigation was invited to testify, though Norwood did say the organization would be invited to future hearings.
Last month Norwood wrote a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao charging the "inappropriate use of the ACGIH process, and the group''s TLVs." He recommended Chao take nine actions to deal with the issue, including limiting the incorporation of TLVs in OSHA rulemaking.
In response, ACGIH wrote Chao a letter earlier this week, disputing Norwood''s allegations and asking her not to follow the congressman''s recommendations.
All the witnesses agreed there are serious problems with OSHA''s current rulemaking process, though they differed on solutions.
Peg Seminario, director of the AFL-CIO''s department of Occupational Safety and Health testified that OSHA standards have been effective at reducing occupational hazards and that while the rules have been challenged in court, most have been upheld.
Seminario said that increased industry and political opposition to OSHA rulemaking have caused the process to grind nearly to a halt.
In questioning Seminario, Norwood appeared to have a different interpretation for the rulemaking slow down.
"Haven''t all the easy ones been done?" he asked.
Seminario partially conceded the point, but countered that remaining workplace hazards, even if more complicated, still pose serious dangers to millions of workers.
In order to improve OSHA rulemaking, Frank White of the Organization Resources Counselors Inc., called for "management commitment and leadership" at OSHA. He also said that OSHA has "dropped the ball" on a regular basis with respect to preparing the affected public for the implementation of new standards.
Attorney Willis Goldsmith, a partner at Jones, Day, Reavis & Prague, agreed with the other witnesses that OSHA rulemaking had become too political and too slow. But Goldsmith''s remedy, to create an independent agency charged solely with rulemaking, was criticized by other panel members.
In summarizing the hearing, Norwood vowed to re-visit OSHA and ACGIH rulemaking.
by James Nash