OSHA, NHTSA to Have Leaders – Roof Crush Rule to Follow

President Obama has yet to nominate leaders for many of the regulatory agencies responsible for protecting public health and safety, but two more of those agencies may soon have leaders.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent an email yesterday announcing that Jordan Barab would begin serving as Acting Assistant Secretary effective April 13. (Assistant Secretary is the title given to the head of OSHA, which is housed within the Department of Labor.) Barab comes to OSHA from the House Education and Labor Committee where he has been a respected voice on worker health and safety issues.

Obama will nominate Chuck Hurley to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to a variety of news reports. Hurley currently works for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Before that, he worked with then-State Senator Obama to improve road and vehicle safety in Illinois.

If confirmed soon, Hurley may be able to hit the ground running on one of NHTSA’s most controversial issues. Yesterday, NHTSA sent to the White House the final version of its roof crush resistance standard. The long-awaited roof crush rule is due April 30.

Followers of the roof crush rule will wait anxiously to see if the rule deviates from the version developed by the Bush administration. The Bush rule drew criticism from highway safety advocates on two fronts.

First, the rule would improve the existing standard (set in 1971) but would still prove insufficient in protecting passengers. Among other deficiencies, the Bush rule would tighten the strength-to-weight ratio to 2.5 from 1.5, saving 13-44 lives per year, according to NHTSA. Critics say that’s not enough progress: every year 10,000 people die in rollover crashes.

Second, the Bush rule would rob consumers of their right to seek damages at the state level if hurt or killed in a crash. The rule would preempt state laws and regulations stricter than the federal standard, and it would render null any tort claims if the manufacturer can show they complied with NHTSA’s rule.

What’s wrong with that? Well, you don’t have to be LeVar Burton to see that the regulation runs counter to the plain language of the statute under which the regulation is being promulgated. Check out our comparison of the law and the proposed regulation to see for yourself.

Hurley is unlikely to be confirmed by April 30. However, NHTSA has repeatedly sough (and been granted) Congressional authority to delay the deadline. Stay tuned for updates.

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