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OSHA Announces Its Regulatory Priorities for 2015

On November 21, 2014, the Department of Labor released its Agency Rule List, which provides the status of all rulemaking efforts at each of its agencies.  OSHA dominated the list of regulatory activity in the Department, listing 26 regulations in the prerule, proposed rule, and final rule stages. 

Of these 26 items, OSHA announced that its top regulatory priorities include:

  • Efforts to control exposure to crystalline silica
  • Enhancements to current infectious disease protocols in healthcare and other high risk environments
  • Issuance of a final rule modernizing its reporting system for occupational injuries and illnesses, requiring electronic submission of injury and illness survey data, which, notably, would be made publicly available
  • Issuance of final rules regarding procedures for handling whistleblower complaints under 9 of the 22 federal statutes which include whistleblower protection provisions that OSHA has been tasked with investigating and enforcing

Hidden among the collection of proposed regulatory actions is OSHA’s plan to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the end of the year seeking to amend its recordkeeping regulations to clarify that the duty to make and maintain accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses is an ongoing obligation.  This proposal is clearly an attempt to circumvent the Volks decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (AKM LLC dba Volks Constructors v. Secretary of Labor, 675 F.3d 752 (D.C. Cir. 2012)), in which the court held that a plain reading of the six-month statute of limitations in the OSH Act limits the period of time in which OSHA can issue a recordkeeping citation to six months.  Otherwise, the court reasoned, the Secretary of Labor could rely upon document retention rules contained within various OSHA standards to tack on extra time to the statute of limitations, potentially leading to absurd results and giving the Secretary the leeway to extend the statute of limitations forever, simply by adding a never-ending document retention requirement to any given recordkeeping rule.

Finally, and predictably, two longstanding controversial topics were relegated to the agency’s long term action list.  Both the proposed stand-alone combustible dust standard and updates to the recently amended Hazard Communication Standard (which includes the undefined term “combustible dust” within the definition of “hazardous chemicals” regulated under the standard) have been added to the list, indicating that regulated industries must continue waiting for a clear and intelligible definition of the term.  And the so-called “I2P2” (Injury and Illness Prevention Program) has also been shelved for an indeterminate period of time.