Cal-OSHA’s new chief, Ellen Widess, has a daunting task ahead of her: to review the agency’s operations and identify opportunities for streamlining it.
“She’ll have to pick her spots,” said Judith Freyman, principal of the Western Occupational Safety and Health Group (Mercer/ORC Networks), which advises Fortune 500 companies on OSH best practices. “She has to be strategic more so than ever before, because the resources are so limited. It’s been awhile since anybody has reviewed Cal-OSHA with an eye toward consolidation, ”
The appointment of Wildess, who previously worked for a foundation advocating for immigrants and working-class families, was announced by California Governor Jerry Brown last week. Wildess has taken home a paycheck from Cal-OSHA before, as head of the agency’s pesticide program from 1978 to 1984.
The state is contending with a $25 billion gap between revenues and spending commitments, which could lead to eliminating layers from certain agencies. Cal-OSHA is part of the Labor and Workforce Devopment Agency, as is the Department of Industrial Relations, which could become a stand-alone agency in a reorganization.
“The dynamic out here is very unique from the rest of the country,” said Freyman.” “What we’re seeing here with regulatory agencies would be considered the traditional Democratic/liberal model.” Under that model, she observed – and with a Democrat, Brown, in the governor's office -- Cal-OSHA would normally grow, not shrink. The state’s dire financial straits make that unlikely.
“We can’t afford it, so something else has to emerge,” predicted Freyman. “It’s very much a work in progress.”
She said that whatever changes occur within Cal-OSHA, her group would continue to work with the agency “to accomplish some positive things for occupational safety and health.”