On May 14, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill directing the State Secretary of Labor to study and make recommendations by January 2015 regarding whether the State should assume responsibility for regulating workplace safety and health. The move is widely seen as the first step toward the State supplanting the authority of the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate occupational safety and health. Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 allows states and territories to develop and enforce safety and health standards provided the state program is at least as effective as the federal program. Currently 25 states and two territories operate state plans. OSHA is responsible for establishing and enforcing workplace safety and health standards in the remaining states and Washington, D.C.
The bill tasks the Secretary with identifying the agreements necessary to implement a state plan, reviewing methods to finance a state plan, determining what personnel and statutory and regulatory changes are necessary to implement a state plan, and identifying the interactions with the federal government necessary to transfer authority for regulation from the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to the State.
Proponents of state control point to opportunities for a more productive, cooperative relationship between business and a regulatory agency more in touch with local needs. Critics cite additional costs to the State and concerns about weaker enforcement. Whether Kansas ultimately moves forward with a state plan remains to be seen. If it chooses to do so, it will be the first state seeking initial approval of a full state plan in nearly 40 years . . . and the first in the 21st century.
The bill can be found here.