Labor hits delay on new safety rule

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ORLANDO, Fla. - The AFL-CIO is very upset that the Obama administration's Office of Management and Budget is sitting on - apparently indefinitely - a proposed job safety rule to cut worker exposure to silica dust.

"Business groups have intervened aggressively with OMB, the gatekeeper on federal regulatory actions, and the Small Business Administration, seeking to stop or weaken safety and health protections," the federation's executive council said during its meeting in Orlando, Fla., in mid-March.

Exhibit A for the federation is that OMB got the silica dust rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Feb., 2011. It was supposed to review it within 120 days, then put a final draft out for public comment.

The rule is supposed to tell firms how to cut exposure to silica dust. Some 7,000 workers sicken yearly from exposure to the dust and 200 die from diseases such as silicosis and lung cancer as a result, the fed said. The GOP-Bush government had also dragged its feet on the silica rule, the AFL-CIO said.

"But more than a year later, the draft proposed silica rule is still being held by OMB, when no indication when the review will be completed and the proposed rule issued," the fed said. Meanwhile, "more than 30 industry groups have met in private with OMB trying to derail" the silica rule.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are trying a wide range of tactics to delay or kill pro-worker job safety rules, both from OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federation said. Their tactics include trying to cut off funds for the two agencies and deny funds for enforcing specific rules.

And their pressure, the fed said, led OSHA to drop a proposal to have employers count - but not regulate - musculoskeletal disorders, also known as ergonomic injuries. Those are an estimated one-third of all injuries on the job.

"Delays in issuing needed rules leave workers at risk of unnecessary injury, risk, and death," the fed said.

The Obama administration defends its actions, saying that rules it has issued - not just from OSHA and MSHA but from other agencies - are crafted to ensure their benefits exceed their costs. He said, in a speech and in an op-ed piece in his hometown Chicago Tribune, that, net benefits from rules the administration has issued exceed their costs by $91 billion.

Photo: OSHA inspectors survey damaged homes.   Bebeto Matthews/AP

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