Monday, June 27, 2005

House of Representatives Passes OSHA Appropriation Bill

The full House of Representatives passed OSHA's FY 2006 Appropriations Bill last week. The House approved a budget for OSHA of approximately $477 million, up from the president's proposal of $467 million. The bill continues to include Congressman Roger Wicker's (R-MS) language prohibiting OSHA from enforcing its respirator fit-testing requirement for health care workers, criticizes OSHA for not issuing its payment-for-personal protective equipment standard, and increases funding by $10 million over the White House request, including full funding for institutional competency training grants.

Wicker TB Amendment

An amendment by Congressman Major Owens (D-NY) to delete the Wicker TB language was was narrowly defeated in a 216-206 vote. Twelve Republicans supported Owens' amendment and two Democrats, Jim Marshall (GA) and Collin Peterson (MN) voted against the amendment.

Owens invoked national security concerns in his effort to restore OSHA enforcement:
This amendment simply strikes a dangerous provision in the underlying bill that would leave first responders and receivers without the most basic protection against bioterrorist attacks. This provision bans the annual fit testing of respirators or masks for our front-line heroes. Why is such a provision there? It is part of the effort to trivialize the whole concept of workers' safety. Why single out a small matter like this and deny the fit testing of respirators and masks for our front-line heroes?
He also submitted a letter sent by 12 labor unions who also reminded Congress of the lessons learned from the recent SARS outbreak:
The need for a properly fitted respirator mask was demonstrated in Toronto during the SARS outbreak when several health care workers whose respirators had not been fit tested contracted SARS. Because the cost of the annual fit testing is small--estimated by OSHA at $10.7 million nationally--it is a wise investment to be made for those most vulnerable to TB and on the frontline of any biological threat or attack.
Wicker, on the other hand, argued that fit testing was a "new regulation" that would raise health care costs unacceptably. Wicker, who seems to be unaware of OSHA's highly successful 15 year old bloodborne pathogens standard, also invoked a darker motive:
This amendment is a back-door method of allowing OSHA a foothold in the regulation of infectious diseases, and I do not think we want to do that today.
Payment for Personal Protective Equipment

The House was more concerned about OSHA's failure to issue it "Payment for PPE" standard that has been languishing at OSHA since the last days of the Clinton Administration. That standard would establish that employers have a responsibility to pay for personal protective equipment such as respirators, gloves and boots that are required by OSHA standards.

According to the Bureau of National Affairs:
The committee report on the measure chided OSHA for its "lack of progress" on finalizing a six-year-old proposed rule on employer payment for personal protective equipment. The committee directed DOL to report on "the definitive status of this regulation " within 30 days after the spending bill is enacted.

"The Committee is especially concerned because the rate of worker deaths and injuries, which has decreased in the last decade for all America workers, has increased among Hispanic workers," the report said. "Despite some promising trends in workplace injury and death rates for Hispanic workers, the Department cannot attribute the trends to better provision of personal protective equipment because the Department has not issued a regulation."
According to its "Regulatory Agenda," OSHA is scheduled to finalize the regulation by October.

Training Grants

Finally, the House restored $10.2 million in funding for training grants, rejecting the Presidents proposal terminate the entire Susan Harwood training grant program. Bush has proposed cutting the program back every year for the past four years, but Congress has always restored the funds.

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