GAO Report: OSHA Rulemaking Takes 7 Years

06.09.2012
HR & Safety

According to a report from the General Accounting Office (GAO), between 1981 and 2010 OSHA took an average of more than seven years to develop and issue a standard.

Congress had asked the GAO to examine:

  • The amount of time it takes to develop standards and the key factors affecting those time frames
  • Alternatives to the typical standard-setting process
  • Whether other agencies’ rulemaking offers insight into OSHA’s challenges
  • Ideas from safety and health experts and agency officials for improving the process

The GAO cites several factors that contribute to the lengthy time frames for developing and issuing standards, including increased procedural requirements, shifting priorities, and a rigorous standard of judicial review.

The report also suggests a number of ways OSHA could work around these roadblocks. One recommendation is to address urgent hazards by issuing emergency temporary standards. The agency has not issued a temporary emergency standard since 1983, saying it’s difficult to compile the evidence necessary to meet the statutory requirements and stand up to a court challenge.

Another alternative is to use the General Duty Clause (GDC). In 2009, OSHA used the GDC against Walmart after one of its employees was trampled to death by uncontrolled holiday crowds, since there’s no OSHA regulation for controlling crowds at retail establishments. It did have a downside, however, as Walmart and OSHA have spent many times the amount of the original $7,000 GDC fine arguing the issue in court.

Another recommendation would address updating existing regulations, particularly permissible exposure limits. Some experts have called for a change that would allow OSHA to revise a group of outdated exposure standards at the same time, using industry consensus standards rather than having to analyze each hazard individually.

Finally, the GAO suggests that OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) collaborate more on researching workplace hazards. That way OSHA can better leverage NIOSH expertise in the standard-setting process. Both agencies have already agreed to the recommendation.

Read the full report

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