GAO Recommends Timeframes for OSHA's Communication Products

A Government Accountability Office report posted Wednesday compares the way OSHA and EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) developed communications to alert auto repair workers about exposures to asbestos in automotive brakes. Both agencies took years to complete their products -- no suprise to OSHA watchers -- but the time lags differed. OSHA took 5.5 years to publish its asbestos Safety and Health Information Bulletin, while OPPTS took 3.5 years to publish its final asbestos brochure.

OSHA officials "cited the need to address uncertainties regarding the prevalence of asbestos in brake products," according to the report, which was prepared for members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Both agencies said useful information about the hazard was available on their Web sies while they worked on their asbestos products, it states.

"Timeliness is but one of a range of performance indicators that agencies may use to measure whether they are achieving their goals, as managers balance competing priorities. But timeliness seems especially relevant once an agency has determined that there is a need to communicate information about how people can protect themselves from health and safety hazards to which they might be exposed," GAO said in its conclusion section. "Having such information might lead people to make different decisions or take different actions to protect themselves than they would in the absence of such information. As the various OSHA and OPPTS processes for preparing communication products are currently designed, they contain few, if any, performance time frames or benchmarks to help ensure that the processes can produce final products in a timely fashion. Although there can be no single standard for how long the entire process should take, OSHA's and OPPTS' processes could benefit from general time frames or benchmarks to provide some impetus for moving products the agencies identified as needed through to dissemination. It should also be remembered that one of the reasons why agencies use alternatives to rulemaking -- such as guidance or general communication products -- is because these alternatives have the advantage of being less time consuming than rulemaking."

GAO recommended that OSHA's chief, Edwin Foulke Jr., and EPA's administrator ensure that their key general policies and procedures for preparing communication products include timeframes or benchmarks to help ensure products are developed, reviewed, and disseminated in a timely manner. To read the full report, visit www.gao.gov/new.items/d08265.pdf.

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