Delays Mount on Life-Saving Workplace Regulations

Laura ClawsonHa ha ha. Remember the joke the Republicans like to tell about how the Obama administration is passing an intolerable number of regulations and the economy just can’t take that kind of regulation-passing?

OSHA regs by administration

Granted, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration isn’t the only government agency responsible for regulation, but a new report from Public Citizen (PDF) demonstrates the barriers to workplace health and safety regulation that have been increasing for decades, driving OSHA’s ability to pass new regulations down into the basement. How bad is the situation? “While OSHA has only regulated two chemicals since 1997, industry develops two new chemicals every day.”

The delays, which are created by a combination of legislative, executive, and judicial pressures, have real consequences:

Five pending OSHA standards have been subject to delays ranging from 4 to 31 years. Analyzing OSHA’s risk assessment data, we found that eliminating the delays would have prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries, more than 10,000 cases of occupational illness and hundreds of worker fatalities.

For instance, remember diacetyl? That’s the butter flavoring chemical found in microwave popcorn. It was identified by the CDC as a hazard in 2002. It made headlines in 2007,ConAgra stopped using it, and that September, the House even passed a bill calling for OSHA to declare it a hazard. But, the Public Citizen report says, “OSHA took no further action on diacetyl during the remainder of the Bush administration.” In early 2009, OSHA started moving forward on a regulation. But between requirements that “small business” (where small = up to 500 employees) be consulted and requirements for intense cost-benefit analysis, they still may be “years away” from regulating diacetyl.

That’s how oppressive the burden of safety and health regulation is on business—businesses have to worry that someday, after they’ve had extensive input, their use of a butter-flavored chemical that kills people may be regulated.

This post originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on October 5, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa se yon 3L nan Syracuse University College of Law. Li gradye nan Eta Penn ak yon diplòm nan jounalis. Avèk rechèch legal li ak ekri pou San Patipri Travay, li fè efò yo ekipe moun ki gen enfòmasyon yo bezwen yo dwe pwòp defansè yo pi byen.