OSHA Needs Better Tools to Protect American Workers from Job-Related Injuries and Illnesses, House Labor Subcommittee Learns

WASHINGTON—At a congressional hearing intended to attack the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for allegedly exceeding its authority, Members of Congress instead learned that legislative reforms are needed to give OSHA the tools and resources necessary to protect worker health and safety.

“Our committee needs to focus on helping OSHA address the challenges of updating outmoded health standards, but instead, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are trying to use this hearing and other actions to further undermine OSHA at the expense of workers across this country,” said Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), senior Democrat on the subcommittee. “After all, if credible scientific research tells us more protective health standards are needed, and it is clear that they are feasible but red tape stands in the way, isn’t this a problem worth addressing on a bipartisan basis? Yet, the approach of today’s hearing focuses on restraining OSHA, rather than delivering workers the protections they need and deserve.”

Passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) in 1970 has improved workplace safety and health significantly over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, too many workers still die on the job or are made ill by work.

The real issue is that OSHA lacks the resources and modern standards to protect workers. With fewer than 2,000 inspectors to monitor an estimated 8,000,000 workplaces, OSHA only has the resources to inspect each facility once every 131 years, on average. According to the Government Accountability Office, it takes an average of seven years for OSHA to update a single safety or health standard, and there are at least 400 standards that are 40 or more years old. At the hearing, business advocates and safety experts agreed that OSHA’s existing safety and health standards are obsolete.

“Contrary to industry rhetoric, the problem is not that OSHA regulates too much, but that it regulates too few health and safety hazards,” testified Randy Rabinowitz, an expert on the OSH Act and workplace safety law. “This Committee should strive to identify more effective ways that OSHA can meet its statutory responsibility to protect workers. Increasing the procedural burdens OSHA must meet to do its job will not improve worker safety and health.”

Despite efforts by Republican witnesses to paint OSHA as exceeding its legal authority, witnesses pointed out that the Administrative Procedures Act grants OSHA the legal authority to issue interpretive rules and general statements of policy without formal notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. Further, OSHA is legally required under the OSH Act to “consult with and advise employers and employees […] as to effective means of preventing occupational injuries and illnesses” and has done so in part by publicizing third-party health standards that place stricter limits on chemical exposure.

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