Supreme Court of the United States - 448 U.S. 607
The case involves OSHA's attempt to regulate occupational exposure to benzene, a known carcinogen. The Supreme Court ruled that OSHA can only require employers to eliminate significant risks of harm, not all risks. The Secretary must prioritize safety and health standards based on the urgency of the need for mandatory standards in specific industries, trades, crafts, occupations, businesses, workplaces, or work environments. The Secretary must undertake cost-benefit analysis before promulgating any standard, requiring the elimination of the most serious hazards first. The Government's interpretation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 would give the Secretary excessive power over American industry, resulting in an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. The amendment to § 6 (b) (5) clarifies that the Secretary is not required to establish standards that guarantee a completely risk-free workplace. The revised amendment aimed to require the Secretary to use their best efforts to establish the best available standards, taking into account the potential long-term exposure to toxic and harmful agents that may not be dangerous in the short term but could be hazardous over time.
This legal case involves complex questions regarding science and medicine. The Secretary must determine if a proposed health and safety standard is necessary and appropriate for safe employment, based on a finding that the pre-existing standard poses a significant risk of health impairment for workers. The Court invalidated the 1 ppm benzene standard as the Secretary did not make the mandated findings. The Court's role is to ensure that the Secretary has followed statutory commands and given reasoned consideration to pertinent factors when promulgating health and safety standards. The Secretary has the authority to refrain from regulating insignificant or de minimis risks, and responsible administration requires avoiding extravagant and comprehensive regulation when the administrative record shows only scant or minimal risk of material health impairment.
Justice Powell agrees with the plurality opinion that OSHA must prove that proposed occupational health standards are necessary to ensure safe workplaces and that current exposure levels pose a significant risk of material health impairment. OSHA's benzene exposure and dermal contact regulation, which relied on its "carcinogen policy," was found to be invalid to the extent that it assumes exposure to known carcinogens should always be reduced to a level proved to be safe or, if no such level is found, to the lowest level that the affected industry can achieve with available technology. However, OSHA's regulation may be justified if supported by substantial evidence. The Court of Appeals' requirement for a specific numerical estimate of benefits derived through mathematical techniques for risk quantification or cost-effectiveness analysis was disagreed upon. OSHA must use the best known techniques for accurate estimation of risks and benefits when available, but if reasonable quantification cannot be accomplished, OSHA's hands are not tied. The question is whether OSHA successfully carried its burden based on record evidence, which reduces to two principal issues: whether there is substantial evidence supporting OSHA's determination that available quantification techniques are too imprecise to permit a reasonable numerical estimate of risks, and whether OSHA's finding of significant risks at current exposure levels is supported by substantial evidence.
This legal case involves the interpretation of §6(b)(5) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which requires the Secretary of Labor to establish standards for toxic materials or harmful physical agents to ensure no employee suffers material impairment of health or functional capacity. The lower court believes that the Secretary must demonstrate that any health standard is justifiable based on a rough balancing of costs and benefits, but the author suggests that Congress has inadequately delegated decision-making power. The Supreme Court has a history of striking down laws that exceed Congress's authority, and the language of the relevant portion of the statute is precatory and violates the doctrine against uncanalized delegations of legislative power. Despite including the word "feasibly," participants in the floor debate characterized the provision as requiring a utopia free from any hazards and guaranteeing protection from any possible harm.
The dissenting justices argued that the Court's authority is limited in cases of statutory construction and that the plurality's decision disregarded these restrictions and ignored the plain meaning of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The author disagrees with the plurality's interpretation of the Act, which places the burden of medical uncertainty on American workers and renders the Federal Government powerless to take protective action on their behalf. The Secretary of Labor is authorized to set standards that ensure no employee will suffer material impairment of health or functional capacity even with regular exposure to the hazard dealt with by the standard for the duration of their working life. The Supreme Court case involved a proposed standard for benzene exposure, with the Secretary finding that regulatory action was necessary under the Occupational Safety and Health Act due to the harmful effects of benzene exposure, including chromosomal damage, blood disorders, and leukemia. The Secretary recommended a significant reduction in the permissible exposure limit for benzene, as the current standard does not provide sufficient protection. The Secretary's decision was reasonable and in compliance with the statutory requirement to ensure that no employee suffers material impairment of health or functional capacity due to regular exposure to the hazard. The plurality's standard that the Secretary must show that it is "more likely than not" that the risk he seeks to regulate is a "significant" one in order to define occupational safety and health standards is not supported by the Act's language, structure, or legislative history.
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