Whither regulations

A guest post by Russ Phifer, a consultant with WC Environmental and past chair of the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety.

As an environmental health and safety consultant, I always have an eye open for new laws and regulations that impact air, water, waste, or worker safety. Do you realize the last major piece of EHS legislation was actually the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990? That’s 20 years since Congress has introduced anything new in our field. While OSHA continually comes out with new revisions to the OSH Act of 1970, when was the last significant new regulation?

Sure, OSHA recently came out with new crane safety regulations and has addressed combustible dust. The agency is also in the process of reconciling its regulations to meet the requirements of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. But seriously, whatever happened to ergonomic safety? The proposed regulation, which was issued in 2001, has gone nowhere. All OSHA has done is prepare voluntary guidelines, without the force of regulation.

In 1989, OSHA issued a list of 376 additional chemicals with permissible exposure limits to be covered under the agency’s Subpart Z standards for “Toxic and Hazardous Substances.” Only a select few have actually been implemented to protect workers from chemical exposures. Clearly, the regulated community, which consists of labor and management, can’t agree on what should be regulated, and how. Terms like “economic feasibility” and “insufficiently protective” don’t mesh well.

Why the dearth of any significant new regulations since 1990? Has the U.S. done all it can to protect our environment and our workforce? Are we “done”? Do those air, water, waste and worker safety regulations implemented from 1970 to 1990 adequately protect us? Is the anti-government pressure by the public responsible? A good topic for debate.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. Environmental regulations are slow to be enacted because generally there is not a consensus as to what is needed or desirable. In the current political environment, less federal regulation is wanted, so new regulations are more unlikely to be proposed and put into effect. If you listen to talk radio, you may wonder if OSHA will remain in existence.