Friday, September 19, 2008

House Hearing Focuses On Secret Rule

DOL could weaken and delay workplace health standards ...

"A Sept. 17 House Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing considered the impact of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) worker health risk assessment proposal, a rule critics say was developed in secret and that could weaken and delay the enactment of future workplace health standards.

“I have called this hearing today on the Department of Labor’s proposed risk assessment regulation, because, quite frankly, I’m troubled by the agency’s attempt to rush through this rule without a full consideration of its effect on the health and safety of the American worker,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., in her opening statement.

The proposed rule was brought to public attention in early July, when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published the proposed rule’s title on its Web site. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, subsequently wrote to DOL requesting specific information on the rule and how it came about.

No documents were forthcoming, Woolsey said, until the day before the proposed rule was published in the Aug. 29 Federal Register.

“This proposed rule has, without explanation, leapfrogged ahead of many other worker protection standards that OSHA should have been working on for the last 8 years,” Woolsey said, referencing standards for diacetyl, cranes and beryllium, which currently are in development.

Woolsey also described the proposed rule as “misguided” and that it “will significantly affect the ability of OSHA and MSHA to protect workers from deadly health hazards.” Finally, the rule’s comment period – 30 days – is too brief, she said.
Short and Simple

In his testimony, Leon Sequeira, DOL assistant U.S. labor secretary for policy at DOL, labeled the criticism surrounding the proposed rule as “widespread, inaccurate speculation and misleading descriptions.”

“The Department’s proposed rule is short and simple,” he said. “It codifies existing best practices into a single, easy-to-reference regulation, and includes two provisions to establish consistent procedures that promote greater public input and awareness of the Department’s health rule makings.”

Those provisions, Sequeria explained, include issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed of Rulemaking (ANPR) as part of the health standard rulemaking involving the regulation of workplace toxins, and electronically posting all documents DOL relies upon when developing the health standard.

“It’s important to note, contrary to many misleading reports, that this proposal does not affect the substance or methodology of risk assessments, and it does not weaken any health standard,” he said. “Much of the criticism of this proposal appears to reflect either a profound misunderstanding of the federal rulemaking process, or a deliberate mischaracterization of the Department’s proposal."    (Continued via Occupational Hazards, Laura Walter)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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