Democrats Call for Inspector General Review of OSHA Rule Delays

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By Bruce Rolfsen

Democratic senators are calling for the Department of Labor’s inspector general to launch an inquiry into recent DOL decisions to delay implementation of the silica and beryllium rules approved during the Obama administration, and to issue fewer press releases covering enforcement cases.

“We are deeply concerned by the delay of these rules,” the senators, all members of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in the May 18 letter to DOL Inspector General Scott Dahl.

The senators said the department didn’t offer “substantive rationalization of the delays,” raising questions about the reasons for the postponements and whether the Trump administration’s DOL leadership intends to fully implement the rules.

The drafting of both rules by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration included lengthy reviews of scientific evidence and public comment periods, the lawmakers said.

As for the press release issue, the senators want the inspector general to identify why the agency no longer issues press releases for a large number of OSHA inspections resulting in proposed fines of $40,000 or more, as was done under the Obama administration, and what the role of the White House and others is in changing the policy.

Numerous employer groups had called for the Trump administration to curtail inspection press releases, saying that OSHA used the releases to shame employers and didn’t acknowledge when judges dismissed violations. The agency has continued to update a list of inspections with proposed fines of at least $40,000.

The senators also want the inspector general to determine if there have been other DOL policy changes related to disclosing violations of federal rules and laws.

Delay, Revise

DOL is currently drafting a proposed rule to revise the beryllium rule (RIN:1218-AB76), primarily intended to protect workers from breathing in metal dust and suffering lung disease.

One issue with the rule is whether the Obama administration’s OSHA erred by proposing beryllium standards for the construction and maritime industries, rather than only a general industry standard as proposed in 2015.

The deadline for construction companies to comply with the silica rule is delayed 90 days, with a new deadline of Sept. 23.

The standard (RIN:1218-AB70) sets a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for airborne crystalline silica of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 μg/m3) for general industry, construction and maritime employers. The new PEL is 80 percent less than the old construction standard of 250 μg/m3.

About 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica in workplaces, according to OSHA, and of those, about 940,000 are exposed to silica levels exceeding the new standard. OSHA estimates the lower PEL will prevent 642 deaths annually and 918 moderate to severe silicosis cases.

Signing the letter were Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Al Franken (Minn.), Robert Casey (Penn.) and Christopher Murphy (Conn.), and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

For More Information

The letter is available at http://src.bna.com/o2r.

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