WASHINGTON, D.C. | October 5, 2011 -
The policies and programs of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration touch upon virtually every private workplace across the country. That is a tremendous responsibility, not only for those of us in Congress who write the law, but for the agency officials charged with enforcing it. In an economy as dynamic as ours, the issues that come before your agency are understandably complex.
As great a challenge workplace safety is for an agency staffed with sharp policy minds, imagine how much greater it is for an employer who lacks the resources needed to fully grasp the complexities of federal safety standards. No one in this room questions the valuable role OSHA can play in promoting a safe work environment, doubts the need for strong health and safety protections, or believes bad actors should not be held accountable for jeopardizing the well-being of their employees.
We all share the same goal; however, as with any difficult issue of great importance, there is often a difference of opinion in how we meet that goal. It was clear from the early days of the administration a “new sheriff was in town” who intended to take a much more punitive approach to workplace safety, and who threatened to publicly shame employers. It was tough rhetoric that made good press, but unfortunately many of us remain concerned whether it is the best approach to worker safety.
That is why Republicans on this committee have established a strong oversight agenda, which includes raising legitimate concerns, asking tough questions, demanding responsible answers, and holding hearings to learn from the men and women whose lives are directly impacted by OSHA’s policies.
Today’s hearing is an important part of our efforts. In July, the Department of Labor released its semiannual regulatory agenda that includes a number of OSHA items. Many of the regulatory proposals are identified as “economically significant,” meaning they will cost $100 million or more for businesses to implement. Aside from the significant scope and cost of the administration’s regulatory ambitions, there are additional concerns with specific proposals.
The administration’s injury and illness prevention program, commonly referred to as I2P2, is an unfinished rule that may require employers to write comprehensive safety and health plans. This plan would be in addition to the countless pages of existing rules and paperwork facing employers. We don’t know what the plan will look like, but we can expect the details to be dictated uniformly by OSHA officials, regardless of the circumstances of individual businesses. This proposal has generated a great deal of uncertainty among employers, something our economy cannot afford.
This committee has also expressed concerns about a proposed change to the silica standard. When this initiative began almost 10 years ago, small business representatives raised alarms about the costs, urging the administration to rely instead on greater compliance and strengthened enforcement. In a difficult economy, the administration is resurrecting this flawed proposal, and most of the details are yet unknown. Two months ago, we requested the administration bring its proposal out into the open and encourage public feedback. Today, we are still waiting for a response.
For the sake of time, I will limit our concerns to these two examples. However, the underlying fear is the uncertainty surrounding much of the administration’s regulatory actions. As I noted earlier, these are difficult issues to address and they take time to get right. But we must not ignore the employers who are sitting on the sidelines, questioning the future cost of doing business, reluctant to hire new workers.
Are there some who cut corners and place workers in harm’s way? Absolutely, but most employers want to do the right thing. Most employers want to safeguard the health and well-being of their workers while providing a livelihood for their families. They know more intimately the hazards and risks associated with their businesses, and they should be our partners in safety.
In closing, Dr. Michaels, let me express my commitment to working with you. We have our differences but we share the same goal. I have noted on a number of occasions that the cause of worker safety is best advanced when we work together. My Republican colleagues and I are eager to find common ground with you on policies that will protect workers and foster economic growth and opportunity.
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