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Will new labor chief approve?
In her office at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Amanda Edens has been passing the time by reading the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report on the proposed TB standard she’s written.
The IOM report doesn’t mention whether or not the document Edens has spent the last two years working on will become law or whether it will meet with the same fate that befell the ergonomics rule, repealed by Congress two months after it took effect in January. "The issues for TB are not going to change, but how they may interpret the solution could," is the way Edens puts it.
Along with all other pending regulations, the TB standard has been back-burnered for now. The day after President Bush took office, the White House chief of staff issued a memorandum stopping work on all pending rules so incoming staff can look them over, says Stuart Roy, OSHA spokesman. The past three incoming administrations have issued similar stop-work orders, Roy adds.
According to the memo, pending regulations that have already been finalized can be delayed for no more than 60 days past the day they were due to become law. At one point, "about 10" regulations including TB were pending, says Roy. Some have been finalized since that time. But since the TB standard had not yet been finalized, how long it will be on hold is anyone’s guess, say Roy and Edens.
It’s tough to predict how the proposed TB standard will play with newly appointed Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Though she is a member of the conservative Heritage Foundation and the wife of Mitch McConnell (the ranking Republican senator from Kentucky), Chao nonetheless enjoys a cordial relationship with many labor leaders. The International Association of Machinists and the Communications Workers of America both endorsed her nomination.
Also difficult to gauge is the impact of the IOM report. An IOM committee that reviewed the proposed TB standard gave it only lukewarm support, suggesting several areas where the proposed rule should be more flexible.
By comparison, a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report released in January lent stronger support to proponents of the new ergonomics rule. That report found that repetitive stress causes over a million injuries on the job each year and costs the nation upward of $54 billion in compensation, lost wages, and lost productivity annually. Such costs and injuries, the NAS report said, could be averted by "well-designed intervention programs" such as the ergo rule that crashed and burned earlier this spring.