How Will OSHA Priorities Change Under the Trump Administration?

How Will OSHA Priorities Change Under the Trump Administration?

 

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This is the second in a three-part series of articles about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This installment addresses how the new presidential administration has affected OSHA. Read the first part here and the third part here


A presidential transition from one party to another can lead to policy and regulatory changes—and OSHA has made some shifts in its approach since President Donald Trump's inauguration. 

High-Level Policies

The agency's day-to-day activities haven't changed much, but some high-level policies have been rolled back or delayed, said Patrick Miller, an attorney with Sherman & Howard in Denver.

For example, the Trump administration has delayed enforcement of an Obama-era rule reducing permissible levels of silica exposure in the construction industry and a rule requiring certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness data.

"The biggest change is the regulatory freeze that was immediately instituted shortly after the president was sworn in," said Tressi Cordaro, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Washington, D.C. "We anticipate that there will be very few, if any, new safety or health standards developed during this administration and that some of the standards that were issued under the prior administration may be amended," she said.

Press Releases

Enforcement hasn't been halted, said John Martin, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington, D.C. He said compliance officers are still inspecting worksites and issuing citations, but the new administration isn't as aggressive. "You don't see the bombastic press releases that you saw under [President Barack Obama's] administration," he added.

The Obama administration increased the number of negative press releases OSHA issued regarding employer violations. Critics called that a "naming and shaming" strategy aimed at motivating businesses to comply with OSHA standards by sharing citation information with the public.

The concept of "regulation by shaming" is something the Obama administration, specifically former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels, advocated, Cordaro said.

"Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace," Michaels said in a press statement while he was the head of OSHA.

Martin noted, however, that press releases were based on citations and proposed fines that had yet to make their way through the adjudication process.

Cordaro said the Trump administration will still use press releases, but not to "shame" employers.

Electronic Record-Keeping

The Obama administration's controversial electronic record-keeping rule will require certain employers to submit workplace injury and illness records through a portal on the agency's website. Employers were initially supposed to start submitting electronic information in July, but the portal wasn't available on OSHA's website until Aug. 1.

The Trump administration pushed the first compliance date back to Dec. 1 to give the administration time to evaluate the rule and employers time to prepare.

Michaels had said the reporting system will "nudge employers to prevent worker injuries and illness" and that access to injury information would "help OSHA better target … compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at greatest risk."

Some of the information will be made available to the public, which raises concerns for employers. A potential data breach led OSHA to temporarily suspend the portal shortly after its launch, but the portal is functioning again and OSHA has said there was no actual breach.

Miller said employers shouldn't assume that some of the newer Obama-era standards like the electronic record-keeping rule will go away just because they have been delayed. "Employers should strive for full compliance and keep up to speed on new requirements," he said.

He cautioned that employers also shouldn't expect enforcement efforts to change all that much. "OSHA is one of the more popular agencies, and people don't want to go against worker safety," he said.

Cooperative Focus

The new administration will be more compliance assistance oriented, according to Cordaro. "This is not to say that enforcement will not be a priority; rather, this administration will be willing to work with the employer community in implementing new standards and in addressing compliance concerns that employers may have about standards."

As with George W. Bush's administration, Martin expects Trump's OSHA to focus on voluntary programs that encourage businesses to work with OSHA in exchange for exemption from certain inspections.

"The Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) promote effective worksite-based safety and health," according to OSHA's website. "In the VPP, management, labor and OSHA establish cooperative relationships at workplaces that have implemented a comprehensive safety and health management system."

Employers should expect more cooperative programs, but it's not likely that many changes will happen until there is a new head of OSHA, Martin said. "No one wants to make big decisions until that person is in place and that person's priorities are known."

 

This was the second in a three-part series of articles on OSHA. Tomorrow's installment will examine different workplace safety standards for multistate employers. Yesterday's installment focused on what to do when an OSHA inspector visits.

 

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