by Bill Hoyle

A 1987 New York Times investigation of OSHA’s 17-year performance revealed chronic failures to issue new regulations and enforce existing ones.  [See “Is OSHA Falling Down on the Job?”   by William Glaberson, Sunday, August 2, 1987]   OSHA lacked the staff capacity to issue new rules.   The system of chemical regulation was broken.  Announced fines grabbed headlines only to be routinely reduced to a small fraction of the original amount.

Fast forward 22 years.  Despite the strides taken by Jordan Barab, it is largely déjà vu all over again.

The OSHA PELs are so out-of-date that most people in the U.S. were not even born when they were developed. (The average age in the U.S. is 37.)   Most OSHA PELs are 41-years-old (dating back to the ACGIH’s 1968 TLVs).  The system of one chemical at a time regulation has never worked.  NIOSH has also been largely missing in action from making recommendations for urgently needed new OSHA rules. 

The time is overdue to fundamentally reframe the problems and solutions for the functioning of OSHA and NIOSH. The appointments of John Howard, Jordan Barab and hopefully David Michaels are important, but not nearly enough to bring about needed change.  A revitalized and refocused OHS movement is the key to real progress.

Bill Hoyle was Investigations Manager for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board until his retirement in 2008.  Prior to joining the CSB, he was a 15-year member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union.

Editors’ Note: Read the 1987 NYTimes story “Is OSHA Falling Down on the Job?” and give us your reaction in the comment section below.