WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's premier worker safety agency takes nearly eight years on average to adopt new safety regulations, government auditors said in a report issued Thursday.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration takes far too long compared to other agencies, safety experts said during a Senate hearing on the report by the Government Accountability Office. Critics claim the agency has become overly cautious in setting new rules on dangerous chemicals and other on-the-job hazards, hamstrung by procedural and political roadblocks.
The process for approving new regulations at OSHA averages about 50 percent longer than the Environmental Protection Agency and at least twice as long as the Transportation Department, auditors said.
"We have created barriers based on false alarms, and the need now is to lower them so that worker protection can proceed again without delay," Michael Silverstein, former director of the Washington state OSHA program, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "It is no exaggeration to say that lives are at stake."
Senate Democrats say the delays at OSHA are unacceptable while workers are being injured or killed. It took nearly a decade, for example, for OSHA to issue safety rules on construction cranes. In the meantime, several cranes toppled in accidents, and people were killed.
"It is simply unconscionable that workers must suffer while an OSHA rule is mired in bureaucracy," said committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
OSHA officials blame lengthy waits on greater procedural requirements, shifting priorities and a higher standard of judicial review than most federal agencies face. Heavy pressure and litigation from business groups are also factors.