Does it really matter to safety and health pros whether Vice President Al Gore or Governor George W. Bush wins the race for the White House next month?

Democrats are supposed to be OSHA’s friends, while Republicans see it as a beast that needs to be tamed. But that’s not the way it’s always worked out over the agency’s 30-year existence. One ex-OSHA official says many bureaucrats inside the agency are “confused” after eight years of Clinton appointees running the show. “You’ve had a Democratic administration, which is supposed to be good for OSHA, but not much has happened,” he explains.

Safety and health pros might be confused, too. Consider:

  • Shortly after becoming VP, Al Gore announced it was time for regulators like OSHA to put customers first, eliciting groans from organized labor.

  • OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, a product of the Reagan years eyed suspiciously by unions, has grown like never before under Clinton. At the end of the Bush administration, 104 work sites were enrolled in the program. At latest count, more than 500 sites are participating.

  • Federal OSHA inspections in recent years have averaged about 35,000 — less than half the number conducted in 1984 and 1985 under Reagan.

  • OSHA rulemaking has practically ground to a halt under Clinton. Some of the biggest standards have been issued by Republicans over the years — hazard communication, hearing conservation, process safety, and confined space. Republicans also launched ambitious proposals to regulate seat belt use, indoor air, and exposure limits on more than 400 chemicals. Even the Clinton administration traces the push for an ergonomics rule back to the administration of George W. Bush’s father.