Workplace Safety and Health: Multiple Challenges Lengthen OSHA's Standard Setting

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Testimony issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "In summary, we found that, between 1981 and 2010, the time it took OSHA to develop and issue safety and health standards ranged from 15 months to 19 years and averaged more than 7 years. Experts and agency officials cited several factors that contribute to the lengthy time frames for developing and issuing standards, including increased procedural requirements, shifting priorities, and a rigorous standard of judicial review. We also found that, in addition to using the typical standard-setting process, OSHA can address urgent hazards by issuing emergency temporary ... continued below

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United States. Government Accountability Office. April 19, 2012.

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Testimony issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "In summary, we found that, between 1981 and 2010, the time it took OSHA to develop and issue safety and health standards ranged from 15 months to 19 years and averaged more than 7 years. Experts and agency officials cited several factors that contribute to the lengthy time frames for developing and issuing standards, including increased procedural requirements, shifting priorities, and a rigorous standard of judicial review. We also found that, in addition to using the typical standard-setting process, OSHA can address urgent hazards by issuing emergency temporary standards, although the agency has not used this authority since 1983 because of the difficulty it has faced in compiling the evidence necessary to meet the statutory requirements. Instead, OSHA focuses on enforcement activities—such as enforcing the general requirement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) that employers provide a workplace free from recognized hazards—and educating employers and workers about urgent hazards. Experiences of other federal agencies that regulate public or worker health hazards offered limited insight into the challenges OSHA faces in setting standards. For example, EPA officials pointed to certain requirements of the Clean Air Act to set and regularly review standards for specified air pollutants that have facilitated the agency’s standard-setting efforts. In contrast, the OSH Act does not require OSHA to periodically review its standards. Also, MSHA officials noted that their standard-setting process benefits from both the in-house knowledge of its inspectors, who inspect every mine at least twice yearly, and a dedicated mine safety research group within the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a federal research agency that makes recommendations on occupational safety and health. OSHA must instead rely on time-consuming site visits to obtain information on hazards and has not consistently coordinated with NIOSH to assess occupational hazards. Finally, experts and agency officials identified several ideas that could improve OSHA’s standard-setting process. In our report being released today, we draw upon one of these ideas and recommend that OSHA and NIOSH more consistently collaborate on researching occupational hazards so that OSHA can more effectively leverage NIOSH expertise in its standard-setting process."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • April 19, 2012

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  • June 12, 2014, 7:50 p.m.

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United States. Government Accountability Office. Workplace Safety and Health: Multiple Challenges Lengthen OSHA's Standard Setting, text, April 19, 2012; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc301809/: accessed April 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.