Highlights of ASSE GAC Annual Hill Visits in DC
ASSE’s Government Affairs Committee (GAC) conducted its annual Capitol Hill visits and meeting in Washington, DC, May 4-7 in conjunction with ASSE NAOSH Week activities hosted by OSHA at the Department of Labor. The GAC meets twice a year, in the spring in DC and in the fall in Des Plaines, typically.
On Capitol Hill, in two half days of meetings, the GAC met with lead Republican staff members on occupational safety and health issues of the House Education and Workforce Committee, lead Democratic and Republican staff members on the same issues for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the lead Democratic staff of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor and Health and Human Services issues. The meetings serve to further ongoing, positive conversations the GAC has on various issues in play that impact ASSE members.
Dominating this year’s meetings was the concrete stalemate in Congress on occupational safety and health issues. As in previous Congresses, the Protecting America’s Workers Act and mine safety reform legislation have been reintroduced, but there is no indication these major pieces of legislation as well as the codification of VPP, a bill to require an OSHA combustible dust standard, and others are likely to move forward. On budget issues, both sides of the aisle are sympathetic to ASSE’s concern that OSHA and MSHA receive adequate funding and that NIOSH not lose the Education and Resource Centers and the NORA Research Program in Agriculture, Farming and Fishing proposed by the Administration. It was particularly evident that the voices of ASSE and 194 other stakeholders in support of these programs had been heard. But, again, the fractured nature of current DC politics and a budget process that no one can predict how and when it will be played out make it difficult to feel confident about what an eventual appropriations bill will contain.
The GAC also continues to raise its draft OSH reform bill in discussions. Containing ideas from both sides of the aisle that would help address OSHA’s ability to do its job, one positive idea that came from the discussions was that updating permissible exposure limits (PELs) may be one element of the bill that could receive bipartisan support. ASSE will continue to explore this possibility.
On the Administration side, ASSE met with Assistant Secretary David Michaels and Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab to discuss various issues, including the impact of sequestration, prospects of an I2P2 and other standards, temporary workers and ASSE members’ recent contributions to OSHA’s understanding of the issue, and OSHA’s efforts at advancing best practices in whistleblower protections, among other issues.
The GAC also met with the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s (CSB) Chairman, Rafael Moure-Eraso and Dan Horowitz, the CSB’s managing director. Of key interest was the CSB’s investigation in West, Texas, and the issue of which agency had priority in investigations, an ongoing concern for CSB. The GAC is considering a response to that issue.
With John Howard, NIOSH’s Director, the GAC discussed the impact of sequestration on NIOSH capabilities, the importance of wellness in the context of the Affordable Care Act, continuing concerns of how best to advance safety in research and education programs funded by NIOSH and efforts to support ASSE member understanding of resources available through NIOSH’s Center for Motor Vehicle Safety. As a result of that conversation, a session on the Center’s work has been included in this year’s PDC.
Finally, the GAC met with lead staff of the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to discuss both further cooperation, given the growing membership in the oil and gas industry, as well as PHMSA’s efforts to work with standards development organization (SDO) like ASSE to meet a DOT appropriations bill provision that barred the agency from citing standards that were not free. This has been a concern of ASSE, and the GAC will continue to address the issue.
Photos Top: (l to r) GAC Chair Jim Thornton, Bob Andrews, Ron Sokol, President Elect Kathy Seabrook and Ernie Harper. Middle: ASSE Arizona Member Jeremy Bethancourt receiving the first ASSE Triangle Award for Heroism at OSHA-sponsored NAOSH Week event, with ASSE President Rick Pollock and OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels. Bottom: (l to r) Andrews, Sokol, Seabrook, Thornton, Harper, Asst. Secretary Michaels, ASSE Federal Rep. Adele Abrams, Cindy Roth, Michael Wood and Deputy Asst. Secretary Jordan Barab