The Future of OSHA: End of The Shame Game?

The practice has been called Name and Shame or just The Shame Game.   Under the Obama Administration, OSHA would publicize large fines on businesses, usually when the fines were levied. The idea was that the publicity would do as much as a fine to encourage businesses to adopt safer practices.

In December for example, OSHA put out 30 news releases identifying companies that had been cited for safety violations.  For the first three weeks of January, OSHA put out 16 news releases.  And then suddenly, the news releases stopped….right before Donald Trump’s Inauguration.   OSHA is still fining violators; about 50 have been cited since the last public news release.  The citations are still being posted on the OSHA website.  However, OSHA is not going out of its way to call out the violators publicly.

Is it a change in policy?  Did the new Trump administration order OSHA to stop.  Is it just because OSHA is still without a new director and the new Labor Secretary hasn’t been confirmed yet?  No one is saying, but stay tuned.

What Will Happen At OSHA?

It raises the larger question – What will OSHA look like under the new administration?   The agency was very aggressive under it’s last director, Dr. David Michaels.   Even opponents of OSHA should have at least a begrudging respect for Michaels’ ability to accomplish things with limited resources and against some very powerful interests. OSHA forced through regulations that had languished for years and, where it couldn’t change regulations, it issued interpretations and published industry guidelines on chemical exposure.

However, that aggressive approach also made OSHA vulnerable.

  • Interpretations and rules like the new electronic injury and illness reporting regulations are being challenged in court.
  • Congress is trying to delay or repeal some other rules, like the last minute regulation that said OSHA has five years to cite a company after a violation, instead of the old six month period.
  • The Administration has delayed implementation of the new Beryllium rule while it reviews the impact.

    2008 accident at Trump SoHo Building. One worker severely injured and another killed after a concrete form collapsed.

There has been some speculation about whether OSHA is a special sore spot for President Trump, since his businesses have been cited by the agency multiple times.  That included an incident in 2008 when one worker fell 42 floors to his death and another worker fell into a net and was injured.

Despite all that, it is unlikely that the administration, Congress or the courts will dramatically change OSHA regulations.  Safety and  environmental rules are tricky political issues.  they are usually passed in response to some disaster (think of the laws that came in the wake of the Exxon Valdez) and they tend to accumulate.  However no Congressman wants to run for re-election on a platform of “I made it unsafe to go to work,” so once passed, they tend to stay.

Deep down, we also know that we need safe workplaces.  We also know that not every company is committed to safety and it takes a government agency to make sure there is a level playing field.   Most of us go to work every day without serious concerns about our safety.  We have made incredible progress over the last 40 years and OSHA played a major role in that improvement.  Simply put, “we love to hate OSHA,”  but that is as far as it goes.  There will be a lot of rhetoric, but don’t look for more than a handful of rules or laws to change.

In our next post, we will look at what is more likely to happen at OSHA this year.

 

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