BACKGROUND: Protecting America’s workers from injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in the workplace is an important national priority. That’s why Republicans have repeatedly called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to collaborate with employers, independent safety experts, and other interested stakeholders to close gaps in safety and improve enforcement of health and safety standards. Unfortunately, under the Obama administration, OSHA took a more punitive approach. As one small business owner testified in 2016, “OSHA seems stuck in a ‘Washington, D.C. knows best’ mode of regulating our industry, and it is not helping to make workplaces safer.”
The “Volks” rule is one example of this flawed approach. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employers are required to record and maintain a log of workplace injuries and illnesses that occur during a five-year span. While OSHA inspectors have long used this information to enhance health and safety protections in America’s jobsites, the law explicitly says that employers can only be cited for record-keeping violations within a six-month time period. Yet during the waning days of the Obama administration, OSHA rewrote the law through regulatory fiat. The agency finalized the “Volks” rule, which extends the threat of penalty up to five years.
Two federal appeals courts have rejected the very policies reflected in the rule after a Louisiana construction company was cited for paperwork errors occurring nearly five years prior. “We do not believe Congress expressly established a statute of limitations only to implicitly encourage the Secretary to ignore it,” noted the D.C. Circuit Court. The “Volks” rule:
Is an unlawful power grab. Congress has the authority to write laws — not government agencies. The OSH Act explicitly states that an employer may only be cited for failing to keep proper health and safety records within six months. Two federal appeals courts have agreed that the statute of limitations is six months.
Does nothing to improve worker health and safety. Instead of focusing on paperwork errors that occurred five years ago, OSHA should spend its time and resources addressing current working conditions and preventing injuries and illnesses from happening in the future.
Creates regulatory confusion for small businesses. By finalizing an unlawful regulation, the Obama administration created significant uncertainty for employers. The rule particularly hurts small business owners who will face a confusing maze of record-keeping standards and unwarranted litigation.
H. J. RES 83: Congress must act to overturn OSHA’s unlawful power grab and reject the agency’s failed approach to worker safety. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress may pass a resolution of disapproval to prevent, with the full force of law, a federal agency from implementing a rule or issuing a rule that is substantially the same without congressional authorization. H. J. Res 83, introduced by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), would block implementation of the “Volks” rule and prevent future administrations from promulgating a similar rule in the future.