Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Manufacturers Association Misses Bill Clinton

The National Association of Manufacturers is pining away for the good old days of Bill Clinton and Charles Jeffress. Without their favorite old punching bags, they've been reduced to criticizing those radical regulators over at George Bush and John Henshaw's OSHA.

In its recent Workplace Watch, NAM critizes OSHA for "advancing a draconian reduction in the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for hexavalent chromium." OSHA has proposed a 50% reduction in the exposure level of hex chrome following a court order last year.

NIOSH had originally called on OSHA to revise the standard in 1976. In 1993, Public Citizen and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union petitioned OSHA to lower the permissible exposure limit, and when no action was taken, Public Citizen and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) sued the agency in 2002.

Hexavalent chromium is a chemical substance that causes lung cancer, asthma, skin ulcerations and contact dermatitis in the 1 million workers exposed to it.

But on behalf of its members, NAM is upset -- very very upset:
The new PEL and action level are arduous for an industry that extensively uses hex chrome. The finishing industry calculated that the average finishing job shop or small operation (to operate consistently within the range of 5 to 10 micrograms/cubic meter) would have to spend an estimated $300,000 in capital and operating costs in the first year of compliance. They would have to spend almost equal to that figure in subsequent years. This figure is in dramatic contrast to OSHA's estimated compliance cost of $15,000-$18,000 to meet the new PEL.
In other words, the sky will fall if this standard ever sees the light of day. Luckily, NAM is ready to come to the rescue (just send your dues dollars right here.)

Yeah, yeah, put away the violins. Pardon my skepticism, but it would be an understatement to say we've heard it all before.

You see, regulated industries always claim that OSHA regulations will put them out of business and always accuse OSHA of underestimating the compliance costs.

And they're always wrong.
A 1995 study by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) on several OSHA regulations showed the exact same thing. The OTA looked at several OSHA standards that had been in effect for a number of years to determine the accuracy of cost and benefit estimates by OSHA and the regulated industries. The study showed that not only does industry grossly overestimate expected costs, but even OSHA routinely overestimated the costs and underestimated the benefits of standards. OTA found that part of the reason that OSHA overestimates costs is that the agency fails to take into account the fact that American businesses are especially talented at developing new technologies that are much more cost effective and efficient than OSHA had predicted.
NAM has asked for an extension in the comment period while because business associations are "now collecting data, evaluating impacts and preparing to submit comments to OSHA."

We've seen these business "evaluations" before. During the ergonomics comment period, NAM sent surveys to its members asking them to list the imagined costs of implementing the standard. Somehow, they neglected to ask their members if they expected any benefits from preventing costly musculoskeletal injuries.

NAM's complaints are almost amusing considering that Bush's OSHA has actually withdrawn more standards than it's issued. This was the first administration in history that didn't issue a single major standard. And the hex chrome proposal was the only major proposal issued -- under court order.

Oh, and just for good measure, NAM is also hoping "that a new head of OSHA will slow down the troubling ergonomics guidelines process." This "troubling" guidelines process had produced a grand total of three toothless guidelines in four years: poultry processing, retail grocery stores, and nursing homes. At least they didn't have the gall to criticize OSHA's ergonomics enforcement activities. The agency has cited 15 companies for ergonomic hazards over the past four years. Not bad for a problem that accounts for one third of all workplace injuries and illnesses every year.

One more thing. What with the new Congress and newly elected President, NAM is asking Workplace Watch to "help us identify the worst regulations that need to be brought to the attention of the policymakers."

I'd like to nominate the recently issued overtime regulations. Send your nominations to Chris Tampio at ctampio@nam.org.