Labor Quashes Bush-Era Risk Assessment Proposal

The Department of Labor (DOL) today officially announced that it will not go forward with a controversial proposal that would have made it more difficult for the government to write new worker protection rules.

In a notice in today’s issue of the Federal Register, DOL said it was withdrawing a proposed rule published Aug. 29, 2008. The notice called the requirements outlined in the proposed rule, “unnecessary.”

The proposed rule was essentially an attempt to regulate regulations. It would have added to the workload of regulators at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) by requiring those agencies to publish an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

As DOL notes in today’s withdrawal notice, an advanced notice is published “only if the agency believes it will be beneficial to the rulemaking,” adding, “This decision is made on a case-by-case basis.” The proposed rule would have added a mandatory step to an already complicated rulemaking process. In many cases, the advanced notice phase would have been a complete waste of time for OSHA, MSHA, and any commenters.

The proposal also would have changed the way OSHA and MSHA study workplace risks. Scientists and regulators would have had to collect industry-specific data on occupational hazards, use central estimates for risk assessments, and quantify the level of uncertainty in the scientific studies upon which worker safety and health regulations are based. (For more on the proposed requirements, click here.)

Many critics of the proposed rule, including OMB Watch, accused the Bush administration of pushing the regulation as a means to delay the development of standards designed to protect workers from occupational hazards.

But President Bush’s Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, did not finish the rule before leaving office, giving President Obama’s Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, an opportunity to review the rulemaking. Thankfully, with today’s announcement, Solis put an end to this saga once and for all.

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