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Report: OSHA slow to address dangerous workplace conditions

Some prior posts on this blog have mentioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in its role as investigator of workplace accidents in Pennsylvania and around the country. But the agency does more than that. It also creates new safety regulations in response to workplace hazards. A new study performed by the Government Accountability Office, however, has revealed that OSHA can be inefficient in the latter role, potentially placing employees' lives in danger.

The GAO's report found that OSHA has issued 11 safety regulations since the beginning of this century, a drop from 47 regulations created during the 1980s and 1990s. Officials did not offer safer workplaces as an explanation for the decrease. On the contrary, a number of construction workers died in crane accidents during the nearly 10 years OSHA took to implement new crane regulations.

Instead, OSHA faces a number of hurdles that can severely delay new rules from taking effect. The report indicated that one out of every four regulations enacted in the last 30 years took at least 10 years from start to finish. Others took twice as long: A rule on construction scaffolding was 19 years in the making. Other regulatory bodies, such as the Transportation Department, are able to promulgate rules at a much faster rate, the GAO found.

The causes of the delays are manifold. External forces are increasing the time it takes to create a new rule. For example, OSHA's regulations must meet a high bar in the courts. But the agency itself bears some responsibility, say critics. At times, OSHA has begun work on a rule only to pause for a period of time and return to it later. Employers complain that the agency does not do enough to hear their concerns before creating regulations, which can lead to litigation over the regulations.

Dangerous workplace conditions and workplace accidents can cause severe injury to employees, leading them to lose income and incur high medical bills. Workers' compensation can help them recover both.

Source: Insurance Journal, "OSHA Hit for Taking Too Long to Adopt Workplace Safety Rules," Sam Hananel, April 23, 2012.

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