Labor Commissioner Berry says NC small businesses hurt by some federal regulations

lfinaldi@newsobserver.com July 29, 2013 

Editor's note: A story Tuesday about federal safety regulations incorrectly reported that North Carolina gets about $105 million annually from the federal government to develop its own occupational health and safety plan. The state gets about $5.5 million.

APEX -- Regulations proposed by government agencies pose huge time, labor and financial challenges to small businesses that could prevent them from hiring workers, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said Monday.

At a press conference at L.G. Jordan Oil in Apex, Berry discussed the implications of existing and proposed federal regulations on the state’s small businesses, specifically those from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA is responsible for adopting and enforcing rules designed to ensure safe working conditions, and the agency requires states to do inspections and hold safety training and education programs.

Berry, a Republican, said the agency has become too focused on violations.

“We were all concentrating on education and training because we believe that’s the way to have a safe work environment, to make sure everybody understands what they’re required to do and the way they need to do it,” Berry said. “Federal OSHA wants them to concentrate on penalties and citations, even though there’s no evidence that those things work.”

She was joined on a panel by Gregg Thompson of the National Federation of Independent Business’ North Carolina branch, and by Larry Jordan, a former legislator and the owner of L.G. Jordan Oil.

The panel discussed the implications of regulations such as the National Labor Relations Board’s “poster rule” requiring small businesses to hang a poster in the workplace notifying employees of their right to join a union. Since many small businesses, especially those in rural areas with as few as two or three employees, are required to comply with this rule, it leads to a lot of unnecessary and burdensome citations, Thompson said.

“If they don’t get the word, if a regulator comes in and they don’t know about it, then they’re going to be fined for it,” he said. “For small businesses, it’s a burden.”

They also discussed an Environmental Protection Agency lead renovation and repair rule that’s in place to protect people from lead-based hazards associated with renovations or painting, and a proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture Fowl Rule, which would require American chicken farmers to prove the identity of each chicken as they cross state lines.

Jordan, a former state legislator, said keeping up with regulations became too difficult for his staff, so they had to hire a consultant to keep up with them. That service costs them $7,000 initially, without paperwork fees, he said.

“Some of them are possibly good requirements, but they’re just overboard with them. They’re not thinking of the cost on small business people,” he said.

The regulations would apply to each of North Carolina’s small businesses across all disciplines, Thompson said.

OSHA regulations require states to either develop their own occupational health and safety plans or follow federal guidelines. Since North Carolina is one of 22 states with its own plan, it gets about $5.5 million annually from the federal government for its program.

Finaldi: 919-829-4582 or twitter.com/lauraefinaldi

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