Federal agencies Leadership

What’s ahead for OSHA?

Worker safety experts discuss possible changes under Biden administration

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Added enforcement

Also expected: Ramped-up OSHA enforcement. During his campaign, Biden called on the agency to “double the number of OSHA investigators to enforce the law and existing standards and guidelines” in his “4-Point Plan for Our Essential Workers.”

OSHA conducted 33,401 inspections in fiscal year 2019 – the largest total during the Trump administration and the most since 35,820 were conducted in FY 2015. However, the number of OSHA inspectors has fallen over much of the past four years.

According to OSHA data acquired via a Freedom of Information Act request and published Nov. 27 by Bloomberg Law, the agency’s 790 inspectors in FY 2020 was the highest total during the Trump presidency. However, this number is well below the 860 inspectors OSHA had in FY 2014. The agency’s 752 inspectors in FY 2019 was the lowest total in its nearly 50-year history.

Cannon said he hopes OSHA can strike a balance between additional enforcement and other beneficial programs.

“I could see an increase in enforcement,” he said, “but I’d like to see that balanced with a focus on cooperative programs, alliances, partnerships and the consultation services.”

Crystal ball of regulations

The Trump administration has focused heavily on deregulation over the past four years, but that could turn around under Biden.

“You’re going to see a lot going on in the first month, from an OSHA perspective, in the Biden administration,” said Edwin Foulke Jr., an Atlanta-based attorney who led OSHA from April 2006 to November 2008 under the George W. Bush administration.

The new administration’s plan is generally expected to begin with OSHA issuing an emergency temporary standard on infectious diseases, requiring employers to take certain measures to protect workers from on-the-job exposure to the coronavirus.

Along with a COVID-19-focused ETS that would require employers to provide workers with masks, implement physical distancing and establish cleaning/sanitation protocols to mitigate the virus, Foulke said he anticipates OSHA will place more focus on items that weren’t priorities under Trump. These include changing course on the rollback of electronic recordkeeping requirements, issuing more press releases announcing penalties levied against employers who have been cited for violations of standards and more enforcement of the anti-retaliation rule in OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.

“These are all Day One things,” Foulke said. “It’s going to be happening on Jan. 20, so employers need to be aware of that.”

Other work on standards could include tree care, ergonomics, heat stress, workplace violence in health care and emergency response/preparedness.

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