Blumenthal: Broken Regulatory Process Costs Lives, Threatens Worker Safety 25 Years After L’Ambiance Tragedy

Sunday, April 22, 2012

(Hartford, CT) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal — 25 years after Connecticut’s most devastating workplace disaster — decried the broken system for setting worker health and safety standards and he proposed changes to prevent delays causing death and injury.

Blumenthal pointed to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released last week showing that since 1981 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken nearly eight years on average to issue new safety rules. Some rules take as long as 15 years. OSHA, hamstrung by procedural and political roadblocks, has only issued 58 significant rules since 1981 and only 11 since 2000.

“Twenty five years after L’Ambiance, hardworking Americans are still endangered on the job because of outrageous delays in setting standards to stop death and injury,” said Blumenthal. “Standards delayed mean safety denied. The L’Ambiance disaster shows the cost of inaction and real life consequences to workers and their families when the government fails in this most basic responsibility – protecting workers when employers unconscionably put profit above safety. Remembering the innocent victims of L’Ambiance, we bear witness to continuing unacceptable perils permitted at some work places, and the need to fight for adequate safety.”

Blumenthal proposed several changes to how OSHA develops and implements these standards:

  • Expediting approval of safety standards. Despite general consensus within industries on the permissible exposure limits (PELs) to dangerous chemicals, OSHA rules for hundreds of those chemicals haven’t been updated for nearly four decades. Congress should direct OSHA to update obsolete PELs to reflect consensus among industries, experts, and reputable national and international organizations. 
  • Enabling easier court approval. The current standard for judicial review is a major factor affecting the timeline of OSHA’s standard-setting process.  The existing “substantial evidence” standard requiring that OSHA research all industrial processes associated with the issue being regulated is disproportionately burdensome when compared to the requirements placed upon other federal agencies and the standard should be reevaluated.
  • Imposing deadlines for standard setting. To minimize the time it takes OSHA to issue occupational safety or health standards, experts and agency officials agree that statutory deadlines for issuing

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