Senate Committee Approves OSHA Nominee Scott Mugno

Mugno is one step closer to becoming the next head of OSHA

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP December 21, 2017
Senate Committee Approves OSHA Nominee Scott Mugno

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is close to having a new leader nearly a year after the role's last incumbent stepped down. Under new leadership, OSHA is expected to focus on cooperation with businesses rather than strictly on enforcement activities, management attorneys told SHRM Online.

In October, President Donald Trump nominated FedEx Ground Vice President Scott Mugno to be the next assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. Mugno has worked for FedEx since 1994 and is currently in charge of safety, sustainability and vehicle maintenance. He also has a legal and military background. 

"The opportunity to fulfill OSHA's mission to assure safe and healthful working conditions for all working men and woman is an honor and noble work," Mugno said at a Dec. 5 hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. "If confirmed, I will work hard every day—side by side with the best safety professionals at America's ultimate safety department … to fulfill that important mission."

The HELP Committee voted in favor of Mugno on Dec. 13 and sent his nomination to the Senate floor for consideration.

"Scott is an excellent choice," said Edwin Foulke Jr., an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and the former head of OSHA under President George W. Bush. "He has practical, hands-on experience in safety."

Mugno balances showing employees that he cares and understanding where businesses are coming from, said Eric Hobbs, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Milwaukee.

The HELP Committee followed party lines with all Republicans voting in favor of and all Democrats voting against his nomination, but Mugno's nomination hasn't received much criticism. He most likely "won't try to dismantle the agency," said Jordan Barab, a former deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA under President Barack Obama, on his blog

Cooperative Approach

OSHA's mission is to "assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance."

Each leader of the agency has had to figure out how to achieve that mission, and a sole focus on enforcement isn't going to work, Foulke said. For one thing, the agency's staff must think about how to reach small and medium-sized businesses that may not have the staff, policies and procedures in place to roll out a safety program.  

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Effective Safety Management Programs]

"I suspect that the emphasis will not completely be taken away from enforcement," Hobbs said. Enforcement is necessary to ensure compliance with OSHA standards, and diligent employers would be at a disadvantage if competitors weren't penalized for ignoring safety rules, he added. "But there will likely be a stronger emphasis on compliance assistance again."

George W. Bush's administration had focused on voluntary programs that encourage businesses to work with the agency in exchange for exemption from certain inspections.

The Obama-era OSHA changed that strategy. Among other things, the agency increased the number of negative press releases it issued regarding employer safety violations. Critics called that a "naming and shaming" strategy, which was meant to motivate businesses to comply with safety standards by publicly sharing citation information.

OSHA hasn't issued that many press releases since Trump was inaugurated in January. Foulke thinks the agency will continue to issue press releases, but the announcements probably won't be as harsh toward employers. "I think the agency will still target bad actors that willfully violate OSHA standards, but [Mugno] will evaluate the proper balance on doing press releases."

It's important to note that OSHA is a small agency with limited resources. Therefore, if confirmed, Mugno will face serious budgetary constraints. There are things he may want to do, but his hands will be tied by Congress, Hobbs said.

Foulke noted that even if the budget remains the same as the last year, it will still be a step back—costs go up from year to year even when budgets don't.


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