From the blog “OSHA Aboveground,” a post written August 3 by the blog’s anonymous agency careerist:

“It seems that we, as an agency, are sitting around holding our collective breaths waiting for an Assistant Secretary. With the nomination of Dr. David Michaels, and after having been stuck in neutral for almost a year (and something like 21/2 of the last 5 years), we're finally one step away from having some direction. For some of us who have been around for awhile, which direction isn't important, what matters is that we're moving, forward, left, right, heck even reverse is better than being stuck in neutral.”

Let’s hope this OSHA blogger has large lung capacity. There is currently no word from the Senate on when Dr. Michael’s confirmation hearing will be held, and most OSHA-watchers in Washington do not believe it will take place prior to mid-October.

In its nearly 40-year existence, OSHA has hardly ever registered on Washington’s radar screen. Such is the fate of a small agency with about a half-billion budget. In DC, that’s peanuts. In contrast, EPA, with a multi-billion-dollar budget and issues that hit much closer to home for Americans, and thus for the media, is much more visible and familiar.

But safety and health pros, who have lived under the shadow of OSHA for nearly four decades, are much more attuned to the agency’s movements. And right now, in the dog days of August, OSHA matters are in a holding pattern.

But that will change after Dr. Michaels is confirmed and running the agency by November, in all probability. Then, a litany of issues will start making news, with important ramifications, for those whose jobs are affected whenever the OSHA pendulum begins to swing.

For example:

  • What kind of support will OSHA continue to give the Voluntary Protection Program?

  • How much of a headache for safety pros will be caused by hazcom standard revisions made for the safe of “global harmonization”?

  • What will OSHA’s reaction be if its closer inspections of industry recordkeeping reveal excessive under-reporting of injuries?

  • Will OSHA take a position, issue guidance or directives, on how safety incentive contests are to be used in industry in order to avoid the under-reporting of injuries to win awards?

  • How will the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Republicans in Congress react if OSHA decides to take another go at the ergonomics standard? Rush Limbaugh might even chime in on this one.

  • How will OSHA approach updating the seriously out-of-date permissible exposures limits? Will it even make an attempt? Aaron Trippler, the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s director of government affairs, writes in his latest Happenings From the Hill newsletter: “AIHA continues to work on efforts to update the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). We are now discussing whether or not we should hold a meeting of all stakeholders (including labor and industry) or limit this first meeting to only those involved with the standard-setting process. We are also discussing whether or not everyone agrees there is a reasonable a chance to update the PELs or if a broader approach is needed.

    “One wonders where the agency is in this effort. Perhaps it is time for OSHA to publicly announce its intentions when it comes to updating the PELs. Does the agency support updating the PELs? Would the agency rather see a broader approach such as risk assessment or an expanded general duty clause, perhaps more of a control banding approach? Would the agency support a legislative “fix” to change the administrative hurdles to updating the PELs? “

  • Incoming OSHA chief Dr. David Michael has written of the need for a culture change within the agency. Does he plan to hire a six- or –seven-figure consultancy to bring this about, as NASA did? Can you see OSHA personnel going through an observation and feedback process? A perception survey of OSHA personnel regarding the agency’s “way of doing things” would be fascinating if not explosive.

  • How will the push for more regulation mesh with the burden of recession that the business community currently carries? An irresistible force it seems meeting an immovable object.

  • How long will it take for OSHA to work through “the devil in the details” regarding standards for confined space in construction and hearing conservation in construction? Construction is much more the moving target than general industry when it comes to harnessing it with standards.