Post-Election Report: Stakeholders Chart the Future

Now that Republicans have retained control of the White House and increased their hold on both houses of Congress, health and safety advocates expressed a range of views concerning where they would like OSHA to go in the next four years.

A rough consensus emerged concerning what is likely to happen: more of the same.

One major uncertainty hanging in the air is whether OSHA Administrator John Henshaw will remain on the job. In the past, OSHA administrators have tended to resign after four years of service.

On the eve of the election one industry group, ORC Worldwide, issued a press release calling on OSHA to engage more in global policy discussions.

Another industry group appears satisfied with OSHA's current course. "We like Mr. Henshaw's goals and the way he goes about it," said Chris Tampio, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. "We're hoping they will keep putting more resources into compliance assistance than anywhere else and the chances of this happening have increased because of the election results."

Republicans in Congress have generally supported increases for the compliance assistance portion of OSHA's budget and the 2004 elections results increased the chances this will trend will continue.

"My opinion of what's going to happen with OSHA is nothing," commented Ron Hayes, founder of the FIGHT Project, a support group for the families of workers killed on the job. But Hayes said the problem goes beyond who won the elections.

"Until we have an aggressive bunch of people just below the assistant secretary and get rid of these old dead head senior executives, I don't care who the president is," Hayes contended. "These Senior Executive Service people know how to work the system and it works for them, but not for the workers."

Hayes called for changes in OSHA's alliance program, saying it has diverted resources from aggressive enforcement of workplace hazards.

"I don't know what they will do, but I suspect it won't be very close to what they should do," commented Mike Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers of America. Like Hayes, he called on OSHA to abandon "sham alliances" that have produced little given the resources the agency has devoted to them.

Along with other labor leaders, Wright wants OSHA to issue more standards, and cited reactive chemicals, beryllium and silica.

The election results may increase the chances that Republican-backed OSHA "reform" bills will move forward in the next Congress.

Industry and labor remain divided over a bill introduced by Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga. Tampio said NAM strongly supports the measure while Wright opposes it because he thinks it would weaken OSHA's enforcement authority.

Tampio and Wright both said they opposed Sen. Mike Enzi's reform bill, a measure that attempts to steer a middle course by increasing some OSHA penalties while relaxing OSHA enforcement for companies that use third-party consultants.

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