“For nearly 40 years, OSHA has been the Federal government's leading advocate for workplace safety and health. In this time we have made clear progress - think back to what workplaces were like in this country before OSHA,” acting agency boss Jordan Barab told a cheering audience at the United Steelworkers’ Health, Safety and Environment Conference, held earlier this year in Houston, Texas.

”Still, more than 5,000 people continue to die on the job in America every year. We have to do more to reverse this deadly trend,” said Barab.

”Under this new administration, OSHA is heading back to the original intent of the OSH Act. We're back in the enforcement business and the standards-writing business.

”The ‘new OSHA’ will react quickly to troubling trends. Take, for example, the ongoing ‘Texas Sweep.’ Texas has the unfortunate distinction of seeing more workplace fatalities than any other state. For that reason, we recently launched a construction safety sweep in Texas, bringing in inspectors from across the country. Almost 300 construction inspections were conducted between July 12 and August 7. Inspectors identified numerous instances of employees exposed to fall hazards while working from elevated work surfaces or from scaffolds. Employees were removed from the hazard of cave-in while working in unprotected trench/excavations. We expect the Texas program to be the first of many examples where a much more flexible and responsive OSHA will be able to respond to troubling trends that pop up around the country.

”We're moving forward with the Regulatory Agenda - particularly cranes & derricks, confined spaces and silica. We're also progressing on harmonizing our standards with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Secretary Solis has also announced new rulemaking on combustible dust,” said Barab.

This “back to the future” message has not been lost on business groups.

“Employers, be warned: Clean up your act or OSHA will get you,” wrote one business journal.

“I suspect the worst possible scenario,” wrote Dwayne R. Towles, vice president and chief operating officer of Advanced Safety & Health LLC, Louisville, Ky. “What was once viewed by many as pretty much a toothless tiger is rapidly evolving into a hungry beast with an attitude. Employers distracted by other issues and in a survival mood being caught unaware and unprepared now become the victim of their own ignorance and the changing winds of this growing storm.

”Some will not survive the storm. A few business owners will be put out of business and made an example of, with costly fines and prison time. Some will throw up their hands in defeat and either sell the company or close their doors for good. A number will take the risk, do nothing and slip under the radar screen, at least for a while. There is also a number with superior safety and health plans who are basically in compliance already. The vast majority will go to great pains and expense to achieve compliance the best they can.”