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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is responsible for examining and reporting on the efficiency of government agencies. In a recent report, the GAO looked at the rulemaking process of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The GAO reports that "between 1981 and 2010, the time it took OSHA to develop and issue safety and health standards ranged from 15 months to 19 years and averaged more than seven years." Obviously, such a delayed process affects every worker who suffers serious injuries or killed in an accident which could have been prevented by effective safety standards.

OSHA, the report indicated, has numerous challenges when drafting regulations to protect workers. The GAO found that OSHA was subject to "increased procedural requirements, shifting priorities, and a rigorous standard of judicial review."

More Coordination with Other Agencies

In order to more speedily improve worker safety, the GAO suggested that OSHA could more proactively coordinate its work with other federal agencies, and use this expertise to speed the process.

Working with similarly-focused agencies, such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), on a consistent basis, as opposed to the current ad hoc basis could save time in setting standards. Coordination could additionally help to ensure that standards are sufficiently adequate to safeguard the wellbeing of workers.

Changing the Standard of Review

Another challenge for OSHA is judicial standard of review. OSHA's work is subject to a "substantial evidence" standard in court. This means that a company or industry which wants to challenge proposed rulemaking can force the agency to prove that every element of the rulemaking is supported by "substantial evidence."

In the real world, this means that OSHA can be forced to present evidence and experts in a courtroom for hundreds of sections of a lengthy rulemaking. Protection for workers can languish in the courts for years, while companies stall the proposed rules in court.

Most federal agencies are subject to the "arbitrary and capricious" standard, where an entity which opposes the regulation must prove that the agency acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner. This is a more appropriate standard, as the business must show that the agency acted in a significantly unreasonable fashion.

Hopefully OSHA will be able to take some of the GAO's suggestions and employ them in such a way that much-needed worker safety rules may be implemented with significant haste.

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