Flash Report: Standards Board Threatened by Governor

By: Kevin Thompson

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revise includes a move that has long been rumored: the elimination of the nationally renowned and respected Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, also known as the Cal-OSHA Standards Board. The move would eliminate about two Standards Board jobs and save the state only $324,000.

Under the Governor’s proposal, the board’s functions would be transferred to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), which would use a model similar to Fed/OSHA for rulemaking and standards development, “including stakeholder advisory panels,” as the revise document puts it. In the federal system, Fed-OSHA does not have a separate rulemaking branch, but has a directorate for that function. The pace of rulemaking nationally can be glacial and lawsuits are common.

Under the California model, mandated in the states Labor Code, the three branches of Cal/OSHA mirror the federal tripartite system. DOSH is the equivalent of the executive branch, the Standards Board the legislative and the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board the judicial branch.

Under this model, California’s Cal/OSHA has become a world leader in safety rules. It has promulgated a number of groundbreaking regulations, including; the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP); the bloodborne pathogens protections for healthcare workers; the ergonomics standards (although much-derided by labor); and the heat illness prevention standards. 

Sometimes labor sees the Standards Board advisory committee process as a way for employers to effectively veto standards and revisions they don’t like, such as efforts several years ago to modify the ergonomics standard.

The board’s advisory committee process is designed to head off stakeholder lawsuits and has been effective in that regard.

One observer tells Cal-OSHA Reporter that eliminating the board could speed up the California rulemaking process, because there would be no board vote before a proposal is finalized. But without a vote to “legitimize” a rule, the process could become very much more prone to lawsuits.

The proposal will be part of budget negotiations in the state Legislature. Eliminating the board requires legislation, but that would be handled through the budget bill or one of the trailers.

SUBSCRIBER ALERT: We are interested what you – our subscribers – think about this proposal. Please email your comments to  newsdesk@cal-osha.com so we can share them. Be sure to let us know if we can use your name; if not, we will protect your confidentiality to the fullest extent allowed by law.

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Filed in San Francisco by Kevin Thompson