Yesterday, OSHA convened the first day of a three-week public hearing on the proposed silica rule, which would reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) when working with crystalline silica (or sand). The proposed rule has been over a decade in the making, consists of over a thousand pages of rule text and economic impact. And, although the comment period came to a close last month, OSHA announced it would have a public hearing for stakeholders to present information and question one another. Equally important, the hearing was supposed to provide stakeholders an opportunity to question OSHA and the data it presented as its justification for the rule.
One would think this is what an open and transparent government is all about, right? Well, not exactly. It became abundantly clear from the first couple hours of this hearing that the openness and transparency of this government comes only when it is convenient for them and is often a one way street—only open for travel by the stakeholder.
Notwithstanding the volumes of material OSHA has put in the public record, the agency allotted itself only two-and-a-half hours to take questions from stakeholders and experts. In fact, each inquirer was given a mere five minutes to question the validity of the data used to justify the rule change. At one point, the OSHA panel even declined the judge’s direct request to work through lunch so as to not answer questions. You would think with three weeks for the hearing and if the rule change is indeed on solid ground, OSHA could have withstood more than a few dozen questions. Maybe the rule really isn’t as strongly supported after all? The farce of this hearing process is one that is likened to a one-way mirror in an interrogation room—only one side is really subject to questioning and they are not permitted to have knowledge of what the full story looks like.