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Leading Workplace Hazard? Government Bureaucracy
OSHA Rule-making Process
June 2, 2014 - An organization here in the United States became aware many years ago that there was a serious safety hazard injuring and even killing workers; a lot of workers! They estimated there had been more than 950 workers seriously injured every year due to this particular hazard, and it also resulted in six or more fatalities occurring every year. This organization has come up with a solution to prevent the vast majority of these injuries and fatalities, yet they have still not implemented this solution after several years. So the hazard goes unabated while a high number of workers continue to suffer and even die.
You would expect OSHA to step in and force the organization to implement as fast as humanly possible the solution needed to prevent these horrible injuries and fatalities. And it wouldn’t surprise you if OSHA issued one of their “press releases” to try and shame the organization into making the changes needed to stop this carnage. Unfortunately, OSHA is not the solution in this scenario; they (as part of a broken rule-making process) are actually a part of the problem.
The particular hazard I am speaking of is working in confined spaces at construction sites (more on that later), but the real problem I want to rant about is the painfully-long amount of time it has taken for OSHA to promulgate a new confined spaces for construction safety standard. Let me be clear that I am not bashing any one person at OSHA. In their defense, there is a very strict procedure that must be followed when developing any new or revised OSHA safety or health standard, and the process requires actions be taken by governmental organizations other than OSHA (exactly what does the OMB do?). In fact, OSHA has provided a very nice flowchart on their web site that shows the many steps (over 40 in all) that go into developing and issuing a new standard. And according to the timeline provided on this flowchart, that process should take somewhere between 4 and one-half years (best case scenario) up to 11 and one-half years (worst case) to complete. Obviously, though, no one in Washington D.C. is held accountable for meeting this timeline, as OSHA actually started working on drafting the proposed confined space entry for construction standard way back in February of 1994 – THAT’S BEEN OVER 20 YEARS AGO!!!!!
When you study the federal registers and regulatory agenda postings related to OSHA’s proposed confined spaces for construction standard, you will see that it took until 2007 (13 years) just to get the proposed standard drafted and published for public review. The mandatory comment period and public hearing were held in 2008, and then the record was closed at the end of that year. After that, all that was left was for OSHA to tweak the final version of the standard and supporting documents, have it reviewed and approved by the other responsible agencies and Congress, then roll it out as a final rule. According to the flowchart previously mention, that last group of steps should have taken from 24 to 36 months (worst case) to complete; yet still no final standard has been published some six years later.
Those of you who attended the ASSE Professional Development Conference held in Baltimore back in June of 2010 may recall that someone from OSHA speaking at one of the OSHA update sessions mentioned that the issuance of the final rule for confined spaces in construction was very close (suggesting then it would come out within a matter of months). That same message was repeated by another OSHA official at a local ASSE chapter meeting that I attended about four months later. And every year since then, OSHA has suggested in their regulatory agenda and at subsequent gatherings of safety and health professionals that the new standard would finally be rolling out within a matter of months.
But. It. Still. Has. Not. Happened.
I don’t know what is most disheartening about this situation. Is it the fact that we have an obviously broken process for getting health and safety standards in place and nobody in our Government seems to be held accountable for allowing the process to drag out so long? Or perhaps it’s because there continue to be, per OSHA’s own estimates, another 950(+) workers injured and six workers killed every year while this process for promulgating the new confined spaces for construction standard drags along. And just as aggravating to me is there is no official explanation to the public for all of these delays.
I could speculate on possible causes that bog down this process, but I won’t because I am not in a position to do anything about it (but just watch out for a future blog post titled “If I Was King of OSHA”). And it really doesn’t matter what the excuses are anyway, as none of them would be deemed acceptable. But whatever the reasons are for this embarrassment of a so-called safety process being strung out for over 20 years, there’s been way too much unnecessary pain and suffering that could have been avoided had everyone involved just stayed on track with the timeline.
As mentioned earlier, the final rule for confined spaces in construction still has not been issued. The latest information I have seen from OSHA about the issuance of the final rule is that it will roll out in August of this year (2014). But based on past history you better not bet any money on that happening. And if the new rule doesn’t come out at that time, I hope the entire safety and health profession rises up to express total disgust about the broken rule-making process to their representatives in Washington D.C. I've worked for government agencies in the past, so I realize things work slowly in Washington, but this has gone past the point of reason.
Do you believe this confined spaces in construction standard will finally be published in August 2014 as recently announced, or will bureaucracy win out again? What do you think are the reasons for the latest steps in this process taking so long, and what should be done to speed things up? If you would like to share your thoughts or first-hand knowledge about this process, please feel free to share that information by clicking here to access the “Comments” box. And last but not least, I encourage you to Share this Blog with others in your Network who might benefit from reading this post.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Curtis Chambers is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with a Master of Science degree in Occupational Safety and Health. He has held numerous leadership positions in workplace safety and health at various public organizations and private corporations. He is currently the President of OSHA Training Services Inc. and also developed this OSHA training website.