House Panel Praises and Queries OSHA, MSHA, NIOSH

Critical questions about delays in OSHA rulemaking marred an otherwise friendly reception when the leaders of the federal government's three workplace safety and health agencies appeared before a House appropriations subcommittee on April 7.

Ostensibly the hearing was about the administration's fiscal year 2006 budget request, but the subject of money never arose as Republican members of the panel praised OSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for emphasizing education, compliance assistance and other business-friendly voluntary programs.

"We didn't get a lot of complaints about OSHA, so you must be doing something right," Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, told Acting OSHA Administrator Jonathan Snare, after Snare completed his testimony. Regula chairs the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education.

"I think MSHA is doing a wonderful job," asserted Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., another subcommittee member. Sherwood praised the agency, and Acting Administrator David Dye, for working with employers and miners to improve safety by offering compliance assistance while "still getting the production out."

The only Democrat to speak at the hearing, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, raised the only critical questions about the agencies' performance.

Roybal-Allard asked NIOSH Director John Howard about a 3-year delay in implementing 40 recommendations NIOSH developed for the Department of Labor in order to improve workplace protections for young workers. Howard said NIOSH has worked with the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division on implementing the recommendations.

But the California Democrat spent most of her time challenging Snare about a 6-year-old proposed rule that would clarify when employers must pay for their employees' personal protective equipment.

"Why has OSHA failed to finalize this rule?" asked Roybal-Allard. "Will it take you another 6 years?"

Snare replied that "the issues raised by the rulemaking are complicated …[the rule] is currently under active consideration." But his inability to give a specific date when the standard would be issued did not satisfy the congresswoman.

"That's the same answer I get every year," countered Roybal-Allard.

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