New Safety Poll: Do OSHA Regulations Kill Jobs or Stop Jobs from Killing People?

Last week, OSHA Director Dr. David Michaels testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.  The hearing, entitled “Workplace Safety: Ensuring a Responsible Regulatory Environment,” was billed as an investigation into OSHA regulations and their impact on worker safety and job creation.

Chairman Walberg opened the hearing with a statement that questioned OSHA’s punitive approach to workplace safety and the wisdom of economically significant regulations in today’s economic climate. The Chairman specifically pointed to OSHA’s proposed injury and illness prevention program (I2P2) rule, and changes to the silica standard. During the hearing, a good amount of time was also dedicated to discussing new fall protection rules for residential construction projects.

Most of the Republican members of the subcommittee expressed their displeasure and concern with OSHA’s policies, suggesting that the regulations were playing a big role in the ability of businesses, especially small businesses, to stay viable and make new hires.

In defense of OSHA, Dr. Michaels began his testimony with a long statement that talked about OSHA’s 40th anniversary, quoted President Obama – “I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety,” and touted OSHA’s success over the years. According to Michaels, in 1971, an average of 38 workers died on the job each day compared to 12 today.

Challenging the idea of the costs of safety being oppressive, Michaels went on the offense citing a Liberty Mutual Insurance report that found disabling injuries cost American employers more than $53 billion a year in workers' comp. He also pointed to several cases where the deaths and injuries of workers lead to the closing of factories and large job loss.

Michaels finished by saying there was “evidence that both regulated industries and the agency itself generally overestimate the cost of new OSHA standards.” He said,  “Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), comparing the predicted and actual costs of eight OSHA regulations, found that in almost all cases, “industries that were most affected achieved compliance straightforwardly, and largely avoided the destructive economic effects” that they had predicted.”

Some of the sharpest exchanges occurred during the question and answer period, as reported by EHS Today:

"In the opinion of Walberg and the other Republican members of the subcommittee, OSHA is not taking the concerns of small business owners into consideration when promulgating regulations and, according to some legislators, either is not seeking public input to regulations or is not listening when the input is received.

Not true, said Michaels. “[OSHA] enthusiastically welcome(s) public input. OSHA’s first priority is to issue standards that protect workers. But it makes absolutely no sense to issue standards that don’t work or that don’t make sense to businesses and workers in a real workplace. Getting input from workers and businesses, based on their experience, about what works and what doesn’t work is not only essential to issuing good, common sense rules, but also welcomed by this agency.”

During another, friendlier exchange, Michaels, said “We know that OSHA regulations don’t kill jobs, they stop jobs from killing workers. And they don’t hurt the economy at all.”

The House subcommittee hearing took place against the back drop of a larger conversation about the reach of governmental regulations. In the last month, the Obama Administration postponed an EPA smog regulation that was unpopular with the business community and in this week’s GOP debate several presidential candidates strongly criticized governmental regulations.

All of the rhetoric has many wondering if OSHA will be able to get out a final rule on GHS any time soon. In his testimony to the House subcommittee, Michaels announced that one of the next standards OSHA issues will be a revision of the Hazard Communication Standard to align with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

Some of the government watchers we’ve spoken to of late think GHS could be postponed beyond the next election. One source said that White House is very scared right now and would do nothing that could in anyway impinge on job growth. Another source said OSHA itself is a house divided – that a real fight is being waged inside the agency between those who want to press ahead and those who want to hold off until after the next election.

Tell us what you think – Do you think OSHA should proceed with GHS alignment? Do you think it will and when? Is the uncertainty worse than the changes the revised standard will bring?