The 114th Session of Congress began at the start of the new year. Although few legislative issues regarding occupational health and safety have been introduced so far—and I don’t expect very many—it’s clear that regulatory reform issues are at the top of Republicans’ agenda. BILLS IN THE MIX Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has introduced HR 185, a bill to reform the process by which federal agencies analyze and formulate new regulations and guidance documents. This bill would alter the federal agency rulemaking procedures and require agencies to adopt the least costly regulatory alternatives, publish advance notice of proposed rulemaking for major rules, and hold hearings on high-impact rules. Agencies would also be required to adopt rules only on the best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical, and economic basis. The bill passed the House, and while it may pass the Senate, President Obama has already signaled his intent to veto if it makes its way to the White House.
It’s interesting to note that during committee hearings for this bill, a failed attempt was made to amend it to exempt from this requirement any regulations or guidelines proposed by OSHA to prevent healthcare workers from contracting infectious diseases.
A similar bill, S 168, was introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and would require all federal agencies to review significant regulations and propose a timeline to repeal those deemed burdensome or unnecessary, or those that harm the economy or job creation. However, it has yet to pass the Senate and also faces the threat of veto from the president.
HR 128 is another attempt by Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, to revise regulations concerning the recording and reporting of occupational injuries and illnesses. This bill would require employers to keep track of injuries and illnesses for all employees on a work site, regardless of whether they are employed by the site-controlling employer or are employed by contractors. The bill hasn’t made it very far in the past and won’t make it very far this time, either. OVER AT OSHA Just across the street from the Capitol, OSHA leaders vow to move on several agenda items in the last two years of the Obama administration. Some are long-time issues and some more recent. Unfortunately, reality will likely set in and few of these issues will be completed. Even so, give Dr. Michaels credit for trying to move these issues forward.
The issue of reporting requirements is complicated because there are actually three different reporting proposals. First, new requirements for what employers are required to report to OSHA went into effect Jan. 1. Employers are now required to report all work-related fatalities within eight hours and all in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye within 24 hours of learning about the incident.
Next, OSHA has proposed changes to a rule that governs recordkeeping for injuries and illnesses. A 2012 federal court decision said that employers couldn’t be cited for alleged recordkeeping violations more than six months prior to OSHA discovering an incident of injury or illness. OSHA is attempting to change the rule to clarify that it has authority to cite employers for recordkeeping violations up to five years prior to discovery of an incident.
Finally, the agency is in the process of drafting a final rule that would require employers to electronically file injury and illness records with OSHA. The agency proposes to publish this information on its website.
In addition to its activities related to reporting requirements, OSHA hopes to finalize rules on silica, confined spaces in construction, and beryllium prior to the end of the Obama Administration. OSHA BUDGET: A CLOSER LOOK The debate over the FY15 budget has concluded and spending is set—at least through Sept. 30. OSHA was provided a funding level of $552.8 million, down only a couple of million dollars from what the president requested, and actually about $500,000 more than what was appropriated in FY14. Of course, once upcoming federal salary increases and inflation are taken into consideration, OSHA will actually have less to spend than last year.
Significant changes from FY14 to FY15 include a $215,000 increase for federal enforcement, a $500,000 increase for whistleblower protection, a $950,000 increase for state programs, and a $1 million cut to federal compliance assistance.
However, there is a little more to this budget. When Congress approved OSHA funding for FY15, the bill included several riders that may pose problems for the agency. For example, the riders require OSHA to notify the House and Senate committees of any new national, regional, or local emphasis programs, including the data used to determine the new programs. Further, the riders require OSHA to consider all new and currently available technology as the agency moves forward with its silica rule. NIOSH NEWS NIOSH received a total of $334.9 million in the final omnibus bill, but what most don’t know is that this was actually an increase from 2014: a small $2.5 million. More importantly, the final budget included continued funding for the agency’s Education Research Centers. The allocation also included $114.5 million for the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA).
What to Watch in 2015 BY AARON TRIPPLER, DIRECTOR, AIHA GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
Congress did express a concern in the final NIOSH budget regarding lack of progress in developing a certification standard for combination unit respirators. Another negative aspect related to NIOSH funding is that the agency has stopped collecting agricultural injury data due to increased costs and future budget uncertainty. This is likely only one of many issues NIOSH will face in the coming years of tighter federal spending. I’m glad to see that NORA funding will continue and that it makes up a large part of the total NIOSH funding package. This program began in 1996 as a partnership to stimulate innovative research and improve workplace practices. With nearly 20 years of accomplishments, NIOSH is undertaking an evaluation for the second decade of NORA work. The agency is accepting feedback until the federal docket closes on March 24. And yes, Ebola is still an issue, even though the media and others seem to have moved on to the next story. But NIOSH and OSHA haven’t yet relegated the issue to the back room. In fact, the two agencies recently released a fact sheet to help healthcare workers, responders, and employers prevent work-related fatigue while tending to Ebola cases. Ebola will continue to keep NIOSH busy in 2015, but other issues will be just as important to the agency. For example, NIOSH Director John Howard, MD, hopes to take a closer look at how science is interpreted and used in developing standards. However, many consider the most important NIOSH agenda item in 2015 to be whether Dr. Howard will remain as director of NIOSH. Dr. Howard, who headed NIOSH from 2002 to 2008 and was appointed to a second six-year term, will see his term expire in September of this year. There’s no word yet on whether he wishes to be reappointed or if he will be reappointed, but it’s hard to find anyone who disagrees that Dr. Howard has been the best leader of NIOSH to date.
Just across the street from the Capitol, OSHA leaders vow to move on several agenda items in the last two years of the Obama administration.