President Trump signed a bill Monday that rolled back the second of two highly contentious Obama-era worker-safety rules that aimed to track and reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule sought to assert the agency’s authority to issue citations and levy fines to companies that fail to record illnesses, injuries and deaths that date back as far as five years. The rule was adopted in January and came in response to a 2012 D.C. Court of Appeals decision — Volks Constructors v. Secretary of Labor — that limited OSHA’s power to issue citations for record-keeping violations older than six months.
Before the lawsuit and court ruling, OSHA had for decades issued citations for violations that went back as much as five years, but Volks Constructors successfully challenged their authority in court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the effort to kill the rule last month, calling it a “heavy-handed regulation” that increased “paperwork burdens” for businesses while doing little to improve worker safety.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, argued against the measure, saying OSHA needed the rule. Otherwise, businesses would view such record-keeping as optional, she added. “This goes against everything President Trump promised workers on the campaign trail,” she said.
The vote in the Senate as well as the House divided narrowly along party lines.
Last month, Trump signed a bill to kill another Obama-era worker-safety rule that required businesses competing for large federal contracts to disclose and correct serious safety and other labor law violations. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule applied to contracts valued at $500,000 or more.
After Trump’s election, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups created wish lists for regulations they wanted to see eliminated, and these two worker-safety rules were on many of the lists. Republican lawmakers quickly identified a tool to assist in those efforts — the rarely used Congressional Review Act (CRA), approved in 1996.
The CRA allows Congress to roll back recently enacted regulations by a simple majority vote. Once a rule is killed, it is killed forever. No future administration can pass a substantially similar measure unless Congress is persuaded to pass a law instead — a far more difficult task.