In a speech May 5 to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO National Nurses Congress in Washington, DC, acting OSHA chief Jordan Barab outlined the “new OSHA” publicly for one of the few times in his short tenure. Most of his speech was devoted to OSHA’s pandemic flu preparedness activities. Here are his remarks regarding the agency’s attitude change in general:

“Hilda Solis, the new Secretary of Labor, has quickly set the tone for her leadership in the Department. She brings to Washington her experience as a labor union supporter and workers rights activist. In the Congress, where she represented the 32nd district in California, her priorities included expanding access to affordable health care, protecting the environment, and improving the lives of working families.

“When she started her job in March, she described her approach to the Department of Labor, which will differ from the last administration, by announcing that ‘There's a new sheriff in town.’ Secretary Solis and I believe that the vast majority of employers want to do right by their workers, and through our outreach, training and education efforts OSHA is providing employers with the information they need to comply with workplace standards.

“However, recalcitrant employers who fail to meet their obligations under the OSH Act will be targeted for strong enforcement action. About two weeks ago, OSHA sent out letters to nearly 14,000 employers nationwide, including some in health care facilities, putting these employers on notice that their workplace injury and illness rates are considerably higher than the national average. These notifications encouraged employers to take immediate steps to eliminate hazards in their workplaces. We reminded these employers that OSHA offers free assistance programs such as the On-site Consultation Program to help them better protect the safety and health of their workers.

“The Department of Labor is taking aggressive steps to bolster our enforcement, including a comprehensive review of our Enhanced Enforcement Program and plans under the new economic stimulus package to hire more enforcement officers for OSHA. We recently announced new rulemaking to create standards for combustible dust and diacetyl hazards in the workplace.

These and other actions are all guided by the simple idea that workers should be able to come home from work every day, safe and sound.