US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

New GAO Report: Burdensome OSHA Regulatory Process Costs Lives

Thursday, April 19, 2012

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) reacted to a new Government Accountability Office report  on workplace safety, released at a HELP Committee hearing. The GAO compiled the report on burdensome rulemaking process the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must use to regulate workplace safety, and found that the process slows the issuance of safety rules, costing some workers their lives. 

“The process for setting safety standards at OSHA is broken,” Chairman Harkin said. “Even when the evidence is undeniable that our workers are dying from workplace hazards, OSHA still takes an eternity to issue a new safety rule.  While reasonable safety rules are delayed to provide never-ending opportunities for stakeholder input, workers’ lives and livelihood are at risk.  It is simply unconscionable that workers must suffer while an OSHA rule is mired in bureaucracy.”

“OSHA’s ability to protect workers has been crippled by excessive red tape that needlessly leaves our nation’s workers at risk of getting sick, injured, or even killed on the job,” said Representative Miller. “Rather than adding more bureaucracy to the process like some are proposing, Congress should be working to modernize worker protection laws so that safety officials can reasonably and effectively respond to workplace dangers with the urgency those dangers deserve.”

“This GAO report shows that our country needs a better process for OSHA to be able to set safety standards for workplaces” said Senator Patty Murray. “Every worker deserves to be confident that while they are working hard and doing their jobs, everything is being done to keep them safe As we’ve seen in my home state of Washington, government, businesses, and workers can work together in a fair and efficient process to protect workers—and that needs to be emulated on the federal level and in states across America.”

“This report confirms our worst suspicions, that red tape and bureaucratic hurdles are keeping OSHA from carrying out its vital mission,” Representative Woolsey said. “It is simply unacceptable that it takes as long as 19 years for OSHA to issue needed protections.  The price is paid with lives lost and injuries suffered that could otherwise have been prevented.”

The GAO report findings include:

  • Since 1981, it has taken nearly 8 years on average for OSHA to issue a new safety rule.  Some rules take as long as 15 years.
  • OSHA has only issued 58 significant rules since 1981, and only 11 since 2000. 

According to a previous GAO report, since the 1980s, it has taken OSHA an average of almost 8 years to put out a final rule. 

  • 50 percent longer than the EPA
  • Twice as long as the Department of Transportation
  • More than 5 times as long as the SEC

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