“Those who have complained the past few years of very limited activity from OSHA and other federal agencies can complain no more. The past month or two has seen more activity from OSHA than was seen in several previous years combined,” writes Aaron Trippler, director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Government Affairs Department, in his August 25 edition of the newsletterHappenings From the Hill.
Much of this aggressiveness Trippler attributes to the dynamic duo of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. Both have wasted no time in making it clear OSHA is headed in a new, faster and more decisive direction than safety and health pros have seen in almost 20 years, going back to Jerry Scannell’s ambitious plans for OSHA in the early 1990s.
In 2009 you hear no talk of “reinventing OSHA,” a doctrine that preoccupied the eight years of the Clinton administration’s management of the agency. You hear no talk of OSHA “adding value” to American businesses, a catch-phrase capturing the agency’s mission during the two terms of the recent Bush administration.
No, what we have unfolding before us is an updated version of the activist OSHA of the late 1970s, when OSHA was head by Dr. Eula Bingham in the Carter administration. It was during this time that occupational safety and health experts such as Barab, the AFL-CIO’s Peg Seminario, and other union safety and health leaders now wielding clout first arrived on the scene in Washington.
The key word at the moment is “unfolding.” The new version of OSHA, which might be considered “OSHA12.0” for the number of “new OSHAs” that various administrations have introduced since the agency’s birth in 1971, is very much a work in progress. Most importantly, the Obama team’s choice to permanently head the agency, Dr. David Michaels, probably won’t take the helm on a day-to-day basis until this coming October or November.
That OSHA has not dawdled around waiting for its permanent leader to settle in “raises all kinds of possible scenarios,” writes Trippler.
One scenario that seems to be playing out in the early going is that Obama’s OSHA, led by Solis and Barab, is hewing close to organized labor’s agenda for the agency. Both of Solis’s parents were union members, and Barab was the director of safety and health for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees from 1982 to 1998.
If you want to learn more about labor’s intentions for OSHA, simply Google “Peg Seminario; congressional testimony” for an almost point-by-point roadmap. Or go back and read Jordan Barab’s posts from 2003 to 2007 in his “Confined Space” blog.
To date, as acting OSHA chief, Barab has been preoccupied trying to resuscitate numerous OSHA standards proposals that were lifeless during the Bush years, such as rules on silica exposures, acetylene, beryllium, diacetyl, and cranes and derricks.
What remains to be seen is what OSHA takes on after this housecleaning. The intensity level, and the noise volume surrounding agency actions, will up ratchet several notches when attention turns to costly, complicated and controversial issues such as combustible dust hazards, permissible exposure limits, ergonomics, a safety and health injury and illness prevention program, and revisions to the hazcom standard to bring labeling and data sheet requirements in line with the UN’s global system for harmonization.
The high water mark for OSHA activity is still one or two years away.