On February 15, Labor-Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration after it became clear he lacked the necessary Senate Republican support to be confirmed. Puzder had drawn criticism for opposing the minimum wage and expanding overtime eligibility. He once described employees at Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s — owned by CKE, the company he leads — as “the best of the worst” and said he wished he could replace them with robots, because robots do not take vacation.

Still, what doomed Puzder’s nomination was his past employment of an undocumented  housekeeper. Puzder’s withdraw just further delays widely assumed changes at OSHA, which won’t begin to emerge until the Labor Department has its boss. For now, Dorothy Dougherty, OSHA’s current non-political deputy assistant secretary, is listed on OSHA’s website org chart as the highest ranking agency official. New White House regime’s typically take their time finding someone to run OSHA – not the highest priority on any administration’s radar.

Dr. David Michaels did not assume reins of the agency until December, 2009, more than a year after President Obama was elected. John Henshaw, President George W. Bush’s first OSHA chief, was not confirmed until August, 2001.

The twilight zone

So for the foreseeable future, we’re in a twilight zone regarding OSHA’s future. One thing we can do in the interim is discern what safety and health professionals and corporate manager want, and don’t want to see, in what will undoubtedly be a new OSHA direction. And that’s what ISHN did this past February, in a flash online survey of readers from the professional ranks and from management.

The biggest question: Should OSHA be abolished and workplace safety and health regulation and enforcement turned over to the states? After all, there is a bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 861, to terminate EPA. According to ISHN’s survey, OSHA should survive. Almost two-thirds of all respondents (65 percent) opposed abolition. Even among corporate management – the agency’s strongest critics – only about one-third (36%) favor eliminating the agency. Not surprising, professionals strongly endorse OSHA – 67 percent opposed getting rid of it and only 13 percent want to see it gone.

Don’t kill the beast

There are several factors behind this fundamental support for the agency. One, corporate managers don’t want to lose business to unscrupulous, unsafe competitors. Two, many professionals leverage the threat of OSHA penalties to fund their departments and justify their existence, much more so in small and  medium size organizations than Fortune 500 type companies with sophisticated safety and health management systems that go far beyond mere OSHA compliance requirements. Three, most states are strapped for cash and don’t have the budgets to fund OSHA-type responsibilities. And four, federal entities breed and multiply at a far greater rate than they are whacked.

This is not to say both professionals and management are against major changes in how OSHA operates. Not at all. According to ISHN’s survey, there’s a fairly even split over whether at least some current agency regulations should be repealed. Fifty-five percent say no (mostly pros and government workers – no surprise); 45 percent say yes (mostly corporate executives and managers – again, no surprise).

Standards to go

The new electronic recordkeeping and public posting of employer injury/illness records standard far and away is the rule both pros and management want to see repealed – 61 percent want it gone and 39 percent say keep it. Actually, more professionals (71 percent) want it gone than corporate types (64 percent).

The injury and illness prevention program (I2P2), once former OSHA chief Michaels’ pet project but now relegated to “long-term action” status on the latest OSHA regulatory agenda, should be wiped off the board according to 51 percent of survey respondents, with 49 percent saying proceed with the proposal. Support for I2P2 isn’t as strong if you discount respondents from “all other operations” – 62 percent of corporate management and 58 percent of pros want I2P2 dropped from the reg calendar.

By the same 51-49 percent margin, most respondents would like to see the updated hazcom / GHS standard repealed.

The largest differences of opinion between management and professionals regarding standards elimination in the survey center on the new silica exposure rule (56 percent of managers want it repealed versus 42 percent of pros), and the new walking-working surface / general industry fall protection rule (45 percent of managers want it repealed versus 29 percent of pros).

Shifting gears

In general, the survey shows a distinct desire for OSHA to shift gears from standards-setting to compliance assistance. Fifty-two percent of professionals (and 46 percent of managers) favor a complete moratorium on all new OSHA standard-setting for the next two to three years. Only one in three professionals (33 percent) oppose a moratorium.

Funding for enforcement should remain at current levels, say almost half (48 percent) of all respondents. Only 29 percent want enforcement spending curtailed. More than half of the safety and health professionals surveyed (53 percent) want increased funding for the Voluntary Protection Program, compared to 36 percent who want funding to remain the same, and a scant 11 percent who want less money spent on VPP.

If readers could set the top three priorities for the next OSHA boss, they would be: 1) increase educational tools and programs (favored by 78 percent); 2) review existing standards and revise or eliminate rules where benefits do not outweigh costs (favored by 58 percent); and 3) Increased support for VPP (favored by 52 percent). This was the OSHA emphasis during the George W. Bush years when John Henshaw and Ed Foulke ran the agency. VPP reached the heights of its popularity in those years.

There is little appetite for reducing the total number of annual inspections (advocated by only 15 percent of pros) and for turning workplace inspections over to third-party certified consultants (advocated by only 10 percent of pros). Only 33 percent of corporate managers want fewer inspections, and only 22 percent of managers want third-party inspections.