Two months ago, we discussed a Government Accountability Office report that noted increasing delays at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in creating and promulgating workplace safety regulations. The dilatory rulemaking process takes a significant toll on Pennsylvania employees exposed to dangerous chemicals and substances at their jobs. While roughly 5,000 people are killed each year in on-the-job accidents, 50,000 die from workplace illnesses.
Two of the more well-known diseases are silicosis and berylliosis, caused by exposure to silica and beryllium, respectively. Both substances are important in a variety of industries from construction to aerospace, but they are listed as “known human carcinogens.” Breathing in dust containing the substances can cause extensive and irreversible damage to the lungs. Some sufferers use oxygen at all hours of the day, and even with its help, they struggle to get around without difficulty.
Despite OSHA’s recognition of the dangers of beryllium and silica, the agency’s efforts to create new rules on permissible exposure caps have now been bogged down in administrative delays for over a decade. While a number of companies in the silica industry have voiced their opposition to tougher rules, the nation’s only pure beryllium manufacturer has acknowledged that the time has come for stricter regulation of beryllium exposure limits.
There are ways to get the rulemaking process to go faster, said one retired Department of Labor attorney. According to him, a little force can help press things through bureaucratic bottlenecks. Working during the Reagan and Clinton administrations, during which many more OSHA rules were enacted, he recounted how engaging in negotiation with federal agencies often led to the passage of rules.
At the present time, the rule on silica exposure levels is farther along than that on beryllium. Unfortunately for employees working with those two substances, neither rule is likely to be enacted before this fall’s presidential election.
Source: iWatch News, “OSHA rules on workplace toxics stalled,” Jim Morris, June 4, 2012.