OMB Clears Chao's Risk Assessment Rule

The battle over the proposed "Requirements for DOL Agencies' Assessment of Occupational Health Risks" rule from Labor Secretary Elaine Chao's office appears to be set, now that the Office of Management and Budget has completed its required review. OMB on Aug. 25 posted a statement saying it is consistent with the proposed change. (The Pump Handle blog reported this development today.)

The rule first came to light July 7 on the OMB Web site, with no prior notice from DOL. Safety and health groups have been protesting and puzzling about it since then, with the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's president, Dr. Robert Orford, writing in opposition July 31 to Chao, the American Industrial Hygiene Association's president, Lindsay Booher, writing Aug. 25 to Chao in opposition to the approach used to enact the rule and the content of the rule, as well, and the American Public Health Association's president, Georges Benjamin, writing a similar letter Aug. 12. A group of 80 environmental and health scientists and professors signed an Aug. 14 letter against the rule. A chronology of the actions and communications about the rule is available at www.defendingscience.org/case_studies/Secret-DOL-Rule.cfm#Chronology.

Clearance from OMB is the go-ahead to publish the rule; DOL Assistant Secretary for Policy Leon Sequeira has maintained in letters to U.S. Rep. George Miller, who chairs the House Labor and Education Committee, that DOL drafted the rule specifically to gain public input on it during a comment period. The opponents, including Miller, say the rule creates an extra step at the start of the rulemaking process that would delay sorely needed protective standards by as much as three years. Another complaint is that the rule would require basing health standards on a worker's average number of years of exposure in an industry, rather than the current method of "working lifetime" risks that consider cumulative exposure to a contaminant for as much as 45 years. While DOL says the change reflects today's mobile workforce, opponents point out that workers who change jobs are less likely to change industries, meaning the same contaminant exposures probably continue.

When the rule is published, triggering a comment period, it will be available at the Federal Register site: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html.

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