Does New OSHA Appointee Signal More Aggressive Push For Regulations?

New OSHA Assistant Administrator Dorothy Dougherty
New OSHA Assistant Administrator Dorothy Dougherty

President Obama made it clear in his State of The Union Address that he will use the power of the presidency to push through his programs if Congress won’t go along.   Is the Administration showing its hand when it comes to pushing for more regulations at OSHA?   In the past week,  OSHA administrator David Michaels named Dorothy Dougherty as OSHA’s new assistant administrator.  Ms. Dougherty has had a distinguished career in government, having spent 32 in different federal jobs, including 22 years with OSHA and several years as a mine inspector in the Mine Safety and Health Administration.  She is said to be well-respected and liked by officials of both parties.   The key point is that she was most recently in charge of OSHA’s standards and guidance directorate, which develops new regulations.

In the past few years OSHA has stepped up its enforcement posture, but has been criticized for its lack of success in navigating regulations through industry and, often, Congressional opposition.  As a result there is a backlog of proposed regulations awaiting action.   These include:

  • Proposed rules on silica exposure (a rule that would have a dramatic impact on oil and gas, as well as many other industries);
  • Proposed rule on  employers’ submission of injury and illness data (a plan that could make company injury data public);
  • Proposed rule on injury and illness prevention program (I2P2) (a rule that could push for universal hazard analysis on all job sites) ; and
  • Final rule on whistleblower protection (an effort to coordinate a number of existing whistleblower rules).

Additionally, OSHA is in the middle of listening sessions on its proposal to reopen and expand its process safety management rules, possibly expanding them into oil and gas drilling and production.

To some extent, it is now or never.  Present Obama has just two more years on his term.  More significantly, the Senate elections are in November raising the potential that both the House and Senate could be in Republican hands and able to block unpopular OSHA regulations.

So if OSHA is planning on an aggressive regulatory agenda during this short window, giving a key position to someone who has been intimately involved in developing those regulations may say a lot about what the administration is planning.

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