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OSHA head nominee Scott Mugno underscores teamwork during Senate confirmation hearing

Scott Mugno

Scott Mugno, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead OSHA as assistant secretary of labor, emphasized the importance of teamwork during his Dec. 5 confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“If confirmed, I will work very hard every day side by side with the best safety professionals at America’s ultimate safety department,” Mugno said in his opening statement. “The discussions or debates on how to reach that goal (of safety) can, at times, lead some to believe one side or another doesn’t believe in the goal. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mugno is the vice president of safety, sustainability and vehicle maintenance at FedEx Ground, where he has worked since August 1994, joining the company as a senior attorney. From February 2000 to December 2011, he was managing director of corporate safety, health and fire prevention until his promotion to vice president.

Mugno also served as OSHA subcommittee chairman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a noted regulatory opponent.

If confirmed as OSHA administrator, Mugno would take over from Loren Sweatt, who has served as acting assistant secretary of labor since July 24. Sweatt is OSHA’s deputy assistant secretary of labor.

The two-and-a-half-hour hearing shed no light on Mugno’s positions on regulations such as injury/illness reporting or silica. Sharing time with three other nominees, Mugno would not commit to changing OSHA’s press release policy and did not give a firm answer on whether the Department of Labor should avoid contracts with companies that violate health and safety regulations.

When asked by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) whether FedEx considered OSHA an enemy or friend, Mugno said, “I would always say that they were an ally. … OSHA has much to bring to the table, as well. Granted, they have enforcement powers, which are needed in some cases for other actors.”

Other committee members pointed to a 2006 Business Insurance report on a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event that quoted Mugno as saying, “We’ve got to free OSHA from its own statutory and regulatory handcuffs.” The article also noted that he suggested some of the agency’s regulations should have sunset provisions.

Mugno was not asked about those statements during the hearing, but Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) brought up his opposition to OSHA’s enhanced respirator standards in 1995 and to ergonomics standards in 2000. “The list goes on,” Murray said, and then asked, “Can you name a single rule proposed by OSHA that during your career you support in order to enhance worker safety?”

Mugno did not answer, but noted that although he and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had crafted a number of comments opposing certain regulations, they did not submit comments on other regulations, indicating they had no objections.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) asked Mugno about another comment he made at the same 2006 U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on who bears the responsibility for workplace safety.

“We’ve got to look harder at the employee,” Mugno was quoted as saying at the event. The Business Insurance report noted that he said workers need to deal with health problems such as obesity. Collins said, “Some people have taken that comment out of context to suggest that you were attributing employee injuries to activities that were off the worksite.”

Mugno clarified his statement: “If safety was a sport, it’s a team sport, and everybody involved in trying to improve safety and health in the workplace has to have skin in the game, if you will,” he said, pointing to the use of health and wellness programs.

Echoing Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta, Mugno touted the potential expansion of the Voluntary Protection Programs and “other compliance assistance programs.” Mugno said that those “should not be viewed as mutually exclusive from the other tools in the toolbox, such as enforcement and standard-setting.”

And like Acosta, Mugno said he would help pursue criminal charges against employers “if the circumstances are right, the elements are met and (after) consultation with the solicitor’s office at the Department of Justice.”

In keeping with the teamwork theme, Mugno acknowledged the role labor unions have played in safety. He said he and his FedEx safety team worked with the flight safety department and the pilots’ union on hazardous materials issues and on disease prevention during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009.

In a note not found in his other biographies, Mugno said he was a union shop steward at a Macy’s department store in New York City when he was a college student in the late 1970s. He went on to attend law school at Washburn University in Kansas and later served in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps for nearly six years.

“And yes, I wrote grievances, and some of them for safety,” he said of his time at Macy’s.

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