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Harkin Statement at HELP Hearing, "Time Takes Its Toll: Delays in OSHA’s Standard-Setting Process and the Impact on Worker Safety”

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“We are here today to discuss the important issue of workplace safety and, specifically, why it takes so long for OSHA to issue a new safety standard.  We are going to hear from GAO about a new study finding that there are alarming delays in this process.  But before I get into what the report says, I first want to talk about why delays at OSHA matter.  Statistics tell us that 12 American workers are likely to die today from a workplace injury.  Countless more will be seriously hurt or contract a fatal illness or disease in their workplace.  These injuries take a massive toll on our economy and society, dramatically increasing the costs of medical care and decreasing productivity in workplaces across the country.  But these economic costs don’t begin to reflect the grief that families feel when their lives are torn apart by a tragedy on the job.  No dollar figure can capture what a family must endure when a loved one goes to work in the morning and never comes home again.  

“In honor of Workers’ Memorial Day, which is later this month, I’d like to now take a moment to acknowledge some people in attendance today.  These are the family members of victims of workplace tragedies, and others who have been personally affected by workplace deaths and injuries.  Please stand up.  We thank you for being here today to honor the loved ones you have lost.  The pictures that you hold are the faces that we should remember every time we hear that safety rules are too burdensome or that regulations cost jobs.  Safety rules save workers’ lives, and that should be our top priority. 

“Keeping our workers safe is the responsibility of every employer across this country.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s job is to make sure that employers are living up to this responsibility.  While there are many tools that OSHA can use to achieve these goals, safety standards are among the most important and most effective ways that OSHA can help save lives.

“But, unfortunately, as we will hear today, the standard-setting process at OSHA is broken.  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.  It took OSHA nearly a decade to issue a commonsense rule on crane safety.  In the meantime, several cranes toppled and lives were ruined.  OSHA’s silica standard has been under consideration since 1974!  But OSHA hasn’t even published a proposed rule yet for the public to comment on.   

“Since the 1980s, it has taken OSHA an average of almost 8 years to put out a final rule.  That’s 50 percent longer than the EPA, at least twice as long as the Department of Transportation, and more than 5 times as long as the SEC takes to issue a rule.  Detailed scientific analysis is a big part of OSHA rulemaking, and of course that analysis is going to take time.  But 8 years – there’s just no excuse for that! 

“The GAO report explores some of the procedural problems that hamstring OSHA’s efforts.  The GAO report shows us how inefficient the process is.  And I know today’s witnesses will offer even more constructive criticism of OSHA’s rulemaking.  No one wants or expects OSHA to issue new rules without careful consideration of the impact on health and the cost of compliance.  But it is simply unconscionable that workers must suffer while an OSHA rule is mired in bureaucracy.

“Slow procedures alone cannot explain why OSHA has issued so few rules recently.  Rules have always taken a long time to finalize.  Yet, after putting out 47 new safety standards in the 80s and 90s, OSHA has put out only 11 since then.  The Reagan administration issued new rules at a rate four-times faster than the current administration. 

“I suspect that the lack of new rules is at least partly the result of relentless external pressure from business lobbyists and anti-labor groups.  These groups pressure both OSHA and OMB to create delays that cost lives. 

“Today rather than hearing outrage over worker deaths, we hear misinformation campaigns from corporate lobbyists about OSHA supposedly killing jobs.  We see legislative proposals that call for blanket prohibitions on new regulations and proposals to add even more red tape to the regulatory process.  Some folks won’t be satisfied until it takes 80 years for OSHA to issue a regulation, instead of 8.   That is unacceptable.

“The truth is that OSHA doesn’t kill jobs, it keeps jobs from killing people. 

“OSHA’s process must be reformed to be more responsive to workplace safety concerns, not less.  We must come up with ways for OSHA to do its job without intimidation or interference.  I know GAO has some ideas on how to do this, and I think the witnesses from our second panel have even more ideas.  So I look forward to today’s hearing and I hope it can be the start of a productive conversation about making workers safer.  Thank you.”