Department of Labor working feverishly to gut workplace safety regulations
I sure miss those innocent days of my youth when I actually believed groups like OSHA and the Department of Labor tried to protect workers from on-the-job injuries. Those days are so gone.
Political appointees at the Department of Labor are moving with unusual speed to push through in the final months of the Bush administration a rule making it tougher to regulate workers' on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins.
The agency did not disclose the proposal, as required, in public notices of regulatory plans that it filed in December and May. Instead, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao's intention to push for the rule first surfaced on July 7, when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posted on its Web site that it was reviewing the proposal, identified only by its nine-word title.
The text of the proposed rule has not been made public, but according to sources briefed on the change and to an early draft obtained by The Washington Post, it would call for reexamining the methods used to measure risks posed by workplace exposure to toxins. The change would address long-standing complaints from businesses that the government overestimates the risk posed by job exposure to chemicals. [I wonder what the tens of thousands of workers who contracted cancer from chemical exposure think about this claim... - JCL]
But virtually overnight, changing the risk-assessment process became the agency's top priority for workplace regulations. The July submission of its proposal broke a deadline set by White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, who had ordered that all agencies submit proposed regulations before June 1 and "resist the historical tendency of administrations to increase regulatory activity in their final months."
Nevertheless, the OMB agreed to work with Labor on the proposal. The July 7 posting on its Web site shocked many inside and outside the agency who had been following the events. [I wonder if the deadline would have been an issue if this were a pro-worker regulation? - JCL]
"This is flat-out secrecy," said Peg Seminario, director of health and safety policy at the AFL-CIO. "They are trying to essentially change the job safety and health laws and reduce required workplace protections through a midnight regulation."
Seminario said she was stunned that the administration would consider the rule its top priority, when for years it has "slow-walked and stalled" safety rules that would reduce worker deaths and injuries from diacetyl and beryllium.
David Michaels, an epidemiologist and workplace safety professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health, said the rule would add another barrier to creating safety standards, in the name of improving them. [Orwell would be proud of the way big business advances its interests. - JCL]
"This is a guarantee to keep any more worker safety regulation from ever coming out of OSHA," Michaels said. "This is being done in secrecy, to be sprung before President Bush leaves office, to cripple the next administration."
If you're an employer who exposes workers to dangerous chemicals, what's the next thing you want the DOL or OSHA to do? Exceed their authority and put some sort of preemption provision in a preamble, just like the FDA did.
This is a perfect real-life example of regulatory capture.