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OSHA Safety Standards Take too Long to Develop and Release

A recent report provided by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirms what industry leaders and safety watchdog groups already know: the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) takes too long to create and update workplace accident prevention, safety and health standards. The average time OSHA takes to create a new standard is a whopping seven years, in the range of 15 months to 19 years, a veritable eternity in lawmaking circles.

The delay in creating and updating standards is an obvious detriment: scientific and medical safety data is ever-evolving, but obsolete standards fail to incorporate that information into regulations aimed to adequately protect workers. OSHA prides itself on its enforcement abilities. However, it cannot fulfill its purpose of educating employers and workers about "urgent hazards" without up-to-date standards of what exactly should be considered a "hazard."

The GAO has identified several ways in which the process of creating or updating OSHA standards could be streamlined to be both more effective and more inclusive. These include:

  • Improving coordination with other governmental bodies - by sharing the information available from other agencies (such as the Mining Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), OSHA could shave much-needed time from their administrative processes
  • Incorporating the use of voluntary standards set by employers themselves
  • Setting statutory timeframe deadlines for the development of new or improved standards
  • Decreasing the stringency of judicial review of OSHA regulations from the "substantial evidence" standard to the less strict "arbitrary and capricious" one to facilitate faster review
  • Adopting new standards and regulations according to priority of need, thus allowing critical or hazardous issues to be addressed before purely administrative ones

Hopefully, OSHA will heed the GAO's advice and work to make its development and release practices more efficient and effective. The safety of countless workers may depend on it.

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