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Slow OSHA results spark criticism from Senate officials

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has come under fire recently because of the length of time it takes to approve new safety rules. According to government officials, OSHA averaged about eight years before making the regulations official, which is roughly twice as long as the Transportation Department and 50 percent longer than the Environmental Protection Agency.

The lagging rules, which are directed at job hazards such as dangerous chemicals and unsafe scaffolding, create issues concerning other matters, like workers' compensation and other reimbursements from worksite accidents. Since the 1990s, only 11 new regulations have been adopted.

The delays are also creating a lack of safety rules for long periods of time; in the meantime workers have been involved in accidents while on the job, resulting in injury or even death. For example, one regulation concerning crane safety took about 10 years to pass. Within that time several cranes toppled and workers lost their lives.

While critics slam the agency, OSHA is blaming the problem on the pressure the administration faces with higher standards, increased requirements for procedures and alternating priorities. However, some believe OSHA's overly cautious approach has created the issue, while some business groups think it's simply ignoring the concerns of the employers.

A former OSHA director said the slow pace of approving the regulations is unacceptable and puts lives at risk. He says that rules should be created and approved in a timely manner, and that there is no excuse for the opposite.

The director of OMB Watch, an advocacy group that monitors federal regulations, has suggested that OSHA could use more methods of a scientific measure to make sure rules are not created more than once, set a specific group of hazards to work on at a time, and share data. Collaboration with OSHA officials and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Heath could also help shorten time periods between adopted regulations, said a report by the Government Accountability Office.

Whatever the solution, it seems clear that the agency designed to protect the health and safety of workers needs to find a more efficient means of carrying out its mission before more people are injured or killed.

Source: Insurance Journal, "OSHA Hit for Taking Too Long to Adopt Workplace Safety Rules," Sam Hananel, April 23, 2012

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