Robert Reich resigns as Secretary of Labor.

The announcement on Friday came three days after President Clinton's reelection, amid a flurry of White House staff and cabinet-level resignations. Reich told the Associated Press, "It's a painful decision, the most painful of my life." But he said he wants to spend more time with his two teenage boys at home in Boston.

Reich will remain at the Labor Department until the inauguration in January. Rumored successors include Tom Donahue, former president of the AFL-CIO; Harold Ickes, deputy White House chief of staff and a former New York labor lawyer; and Maria Echaveste, a Reich deputy.

Reich's departure puts the fate of OSHA chief Joe Dear up in the air. He's an administration favorite, and sources say he wants to stay in the job, but the new labor secretary might want to put in his or her own person.

OSHA and election results: What's going to happen in the next two years?

The key factor is that Republicans still control Congress. Right now, the GOP is comfortable with agency chief Joe Dear's cautious standards-setting, selective enforcement, and efforts to turn OSHA into a more practical, cooperative regulator. So you can expect the agency to continue to stress these themes. Even if Labor Secretary Robert Reich's departure results in Dear leaving as well, his replacement would find it hard to push the regulatory envelope.

Rush through an ergonomics proposal and Congress will come back with more restrictions on its development. Get heavy-handed with fines and citations and the GOP will divert agency officials with hearings, budget battles, and more reform legislation.

This isn't what organized labor wants to hear. Unions want a more aggressive, less accommodating OSHA. If their $35-million-campaign to help Democrats retake Capitol Hill had succeeded, they would be able to make that happen. Now they have to be realists.

Which is fine with most safety and health professionals. "I look forward to sane and sensible approaches," says Tom Lawrence, manager of regulatory affairs, safety and property protection for Monsanto Company.

OSHA, wary of ergonomics standard-setting, "will proceed with a sensible plan of action,"

OSHA, wary of ergonomics standard-setting, "will proceed with a sensible plan of action," said OSHA chief Joe Dear in a recent speech outlining the agency's plans now that Congress has allowed OSHA to go ahead with rulemaking. (Restrictions against developing an ergonomics rule were voted down when Congress passed OSHA's fiscal year 1997 budget in late September.)

"We do not have a mandate or the desire to rush out with an ergonomics standard," Dear told the International Conference on Occupational Disorders of the Upper Extremities in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Oct. 24. "During the budget debate this fall, a few Congressional Cassandras warned that we would sneak a 600-page rule into the Federal Register the moment we had a chance. OSHA doesn't disgorge 600-page rules, or operate by stealth."

The OSHA chief was light on specifics regarding his agency's plans. He set no timetable for getting out a proposal, nor said who would lead the rule-writing effort. He also shed no light on whether OSHA would use the 1995 draft standard as a starting point for the renewed standards-setting push, or scrap the controversial draft and start from scratch.

More than anything, Dear used the speech to try to extend an olive branch to opponents of an ergonomics rule. "The truth of the matter is: We are moving ahead responsibly and deliberately," he said. "We want to carefully reach out to all stakeholders to get ideas and suggestions. Whatever we do, we know that we'll be carefully watched..."

A new OSHA standard on 1-3 butadiene, a carcinogen, is expected to protect 9,700 workers exposed to the chemical.

On Thursday, Oct. 24, OSHA chief Joe Dear and representatives from labor and business signed the standard, which reduces the permissible exposure limit of 1-3 butadiene from 1,000 ppm to one ppm. The final standard also includes a 15-minute short-term exposure limit of five ppm and an action level of 0.5 ppm. More information is available on the Internet at

Lowering lead exposure limits voluntarily is the aim of an initiative -

Recently announced by two organizations who have already lowered lead exposure limits in conjunction with OSHA, the Lead Industries Association, Inc., and Battery Council International-to reduce lead hazards for over 20,000 workers. Under the current standard, employers must relocate workers to an area with less lead exposure when their blood concentration level averages 50 micrograms per 100 grams of whole blood (50ug/100g). The new initiative will encourage employers to relocate workers at 40ug/100g over the next five years.