Tag: Olympia Snowe

On OSHA’s Newfound Restraint on Occupational Noise Regulations

A round-up of the news coverage of yesterday’s announcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that it was withdrawing its proposal re-interpretation of occupational noise standards. (Earlier posts here.)

Associated Press, “Feds drop plan to change workplace noise standards“:

Agency head David Michaels said excessive noise experienced by employees working around heavy machinery is a serious health concern. But he said the problem requires more public outreach than the agency expected, given the costs of better worker protection.

OSHA spokeswoman Diana Petterson said the noise standards decision was “completely unrelated” to Obama’s order. The proposal did not involve issuing a new rule, but reinterpreting an existing rule.

Completely unrelated? Assuming the partial quoted is representative, that’s a missed opportunity. If we were running OSHA’s message shop, the statement would have gone something like: “The business community responded to the proposal with legitimate concerns and new information, and we gave them a serious review. There’s no direct relationship between today’s announcement and the President Obama’s new executive order, but we absoutely take the President’s direction on regulation to heart. OSHA believes that workplace safety, jobs and economic growth go hand and hand.”

Well, that would be three hands, but you get the drift. Embrace the spin!

News release, “Senators Snowe, Lieberman Praise OSHA’s Withdrawal of Noise Regulation“:

U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (ID-Conn.) today praised the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) decision to withdraw its proposed rule change regarding workplace noise exposure in light of a letter the senators sent to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis expressing their concerns with the new regulation.  In their letter, Senators Snowe and Lieberman, Co-Chairs of the Senate Task Force on Manufacturing, noted that OSHA published the change as a “proposed interpretation,” rather than submitting the proposal for a notice and comment rulemaking, which allowed the agency to circumvent critical input from small business stakeholders.

The Senators’ engagement on this issue really made a difference. It’s much appreciated. (continue reading…)

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OSHA Needs to Explain Its Unfounded Noise Proposal

OSHA formally announced in the Federal Register this morning that that the agency will be extending the comment period for their proposal to change noise abatement requirements. However, many on Capitol Hill are asking OSHA if the agency understands the impact that this proposal will have on manufacturers of all sizes.

From OSHA’s notice in the Federal Register:

Two commenters, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Coalition for Workplace Safety (CWS), representing employers who would be affected by the proposed interpretation, have requested an extension of 90 days to assess the operating changes that their members would be required to make to comply with the interpretation.

While this announcement makes the extension official we appreciate that OSHA has recognized that it would take much longer than then initially proposed 60 day window to accurately assess the impact of the agency’s proposal.

We say “proposal” and not “proposed rule” because the agency is attempting to make these changes outside of the formal rulemaking process. While OSHA officials are accepting comments to the regulatory docket the agency is not compelled to take stakeholder feedback into account. Manufacturers, particularly smaller sized manufacturers, will be impacted by these changes, which come at staggeringly high costs without any evidence that the current process of protecting employees is deficient.

David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, told The Hill newspaper that the agency is “sensitive to possible costs associated with improving worker protection”. Further he said:

Our common objective is to ensure that workers don’t lose their hearing without overly burdening employers. OSHA will take all stakeholder comments seriously and will fully consider impacts on business and workers before determining what final action, if any, we will take.

We hope OSHA does take these comments seriously and realize that the costs of making these changes far outweigh potential benefits (if any) that may result.

Yesterday Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who co-chair the Senate’s Task Force on Manufacturing, sent a bipartisan letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis asking for more information on why the proposal has been put forth. The Senators point to important data that shows that the number of hearing loss incidents in the workplace is quite low and is improving significantly.

OSHA does not appear to support this change with data or any suggestion that employees require this new level of protection. Indeed the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on hearing loss injuries shows that from 2004-2009, incidences of hearing loss injuries have decreased from just under 29,000 per year to 19,500 per year and the rate of injuries has gone from 3.2 per 10,000 employees down to 2.2

More importantly the Senators posed several important questions to the Secretary of Labor that we very much look forward getting answers to as well:

-Did OSHA consider alternative interpretations prior to deciding to publish the proposed interpretation in the Federal Register? If so, what were these alternatives?
-Did OSHA consider any unintended consequences the proposed interpretations could have on small businesses? How did the agency address these concerns during formulation of the proposed interpretation?
-Does OSHA have any quantitative data affirming the necessity to change this policy, given that numerous organizations have noted that the current policy is effective?

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Recess Appointments, Regulations and Small Business

President Obama announced his intent to make four recess appointments to “key Administration posts” today:

  • Maria del Carmen Aponte, Nominee for Chief of Mission, Republic of El Salvador
  • Richard Sorian, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services
  • Elisabeth Hagen, Nominee for Under Secretary for Food Safety, Department of Agriculture
  • Winslow Sargeant, Nominee for Chief Counsel of Advocacy, Small Business Administration

Major business and manufacturing trade associations that represent small businesses, including the National Association of Manufacturers, recently joined in a letter to the President raising objections to Sargeant’s appointment to the important position representing small business on regulatory issues within the Administration. Those responsibilities are many, and they presuppose an experienced attorney with regulatory experience. Excerpt:

The Office of Advocacy advances the interests of small businesses by also ensuring that the requirements set forth by the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980,3 as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) of 19964 are met. The Office of Advocacy reviews the Regulatory Flexibility analysis or certification prepared by federal departments and agencies, submits comments on proposed rules, hosts public roundtables to solicit comments from small business entities, presents Congressional testimony, engages in Interagency dialogue, files amicus curiae, periodically reviews existing regulations, and participates as a panel member on SBREFA panels when convened by the respective federal agency.

The Office of Advocacy’s SBREFA responsibilities have been significantly expanded under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-517) to include the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Small Business Fairness and Regulatory Transparency provisions included in P.L. 111-517 requires the CFPB to include recommendations from a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel with any proposed rules that are anticipated to have significant impact on small firms and to inform the public of how its rules will impact small business access to credit.

The letter also cites arguments by Sen. Olmpia Snowe (R-ME) and other members of the Senate Small Business Committee who had written Sargeant’s qualifications were better fitted to serving as the SBA’s Deputy Administrator. (Earlier, Snowe news release, September 2009.)

In his statement announcing the recess appointments, the President chided Senators who had prevented the confirmation and urged them “to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees.” One president’s “playing politics” is a Senator’s legitimate criticism, though.

Despite the business community’s objections to Sargeant’s appointment to the advocacy position, there’s no doubt he knows business. We wish him well on his new multitude of responsibilities, and look forward to working with him.

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