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April 27, 2018
OSHA committees should be restarted, say worker advocacy groups

Recently, more than 40 labor unions, businesses, and public health groups sent a letter to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta asking that he restart the work of six OSHA advisory committees by filling in vacancies and otherwise allowing these bodies to meet and conduct the business of advising OSHA on worker safety and related matters.

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“We are deeply concerned with recent reports that the Department of Labor (DOL) is stalling, disbanding, and allowing the lapse of several critical federal advisory committees at OSHA,” the letter states. “This is yet another example of an alarming pattern of ignoring scientific and expert advice by this Administration.”

OSHA needs the advice

According to the signatories, these committees are critical because they make recommendations that ensure strong science-based workplace protections for construction workers, help sick nuclear plant facility workers get health benefits, and assist in guiding the implementation of science-based protections for workers from exposure to harmful chemicals like beryllium. In addition, the letter states that some of these committees help answer emerging questions that guide better evidence-based policies to safeguard American workers and provide guidance to strengthen compliance with the 22 whistleblower statutes administered by OSHA.

“These advisory panels are composed of experts from labor unions, industry, and the public health community whose key voices in policymaking should be significantly valued by the department and OSHA,” the signatories write.

The letter includes the following requests:

  • Issue a call for nominees to fill vacant spots on the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH).
  • Recharter and issue a call for nominees to fill vacant spots on the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC).
  • Issue a call for nominees to fill vacant spots on the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH).
  • Issue a call for nominees to fill vacant spots on the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH).
  • With agency authority, recharter the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety & Health (FACOSH), and issue a call for nominees.
  • Promptly complete the process of selecting members to serve on the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health, with balanced representation from the scientific, medical, and claimant communities.

UCS report

The letter references a January 2018 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which gave the status of two of the above committees.

NACOSH advises the secretary of Labor and the secretary of Health and Human Services on best practices for implementing OSHA’s standards to reduce work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses and on the relevant agencies’ research needs.

The UCS states: “Charged with meeting two to four times per year, the NACOSH was not active in 2017. During a recent conference call on NACOSH’s status, OSHA told committee members that they would not meet until the new OSHA director was confirmed. In the meantime, the process of bringing on new members was put on hold even though half of their terms expired at the end of 2017. According to one NACOSH member, ‘We can’t meet in the new year [2018] either because we will not have a quorum.’”

Founded in 2012, the mission of the WPAC is to improve the fairness, efficiency, and transparency of whistleblower investigations.

The UCS states: “Soon after the Trump administration took office, committee members found out that no meetings would be scheduled until after Congress confirmed a new Secretary of Labor. In December 2017, members received notice that, due to President Trump’s Executive Order 13781 (Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch), the Department of Labor was evaluating all of its activities, including its advisory committees. It is not known when the agency-wide review will be complete.”

Major unions agree

“It is critical that these advisory boards be given the opportunity to meet and make recommendations as well as help implement science-based safeguards so that everyone can benefit from a safer workplace,” the organization letter states.

Signatories to the letter include the Alliance of Nuclear Worker Advocacy Groups, American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), International Chemical Workers Union Council, National Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, National Nurses United, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America.

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