Senate Confirms Foulke As Assistant Secretary for OSHA

After operating without a permanent administrator since John Henshaw's resignation in December 2004, OSHA finally gets the senatorial nod to receive Bush administration nominee Edwin G. Foulke as the new assistant secretary of labor.

Secretary of labor Elaine L. Chao made the announcement March 15, a week after the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee gave Foulke their full support to assume OSHA's leadership position.

"Ed has extensive knowledge and experience in workplace safety and health issues that he will put to use to protect workers and promote employer compliance," Chao said.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the OSHA oversight subcommittee, said he was pleased with the Senate's decision in confirming Foulke and that he is confident he "will work extremely hard to ensure the safety of American workers."

As head of OSHA, Foulke will be responsible for administering a comprehensive program by setting and enforcing standards, providing training, outreach and education, in addition to establishing partnerships and alliances that encourage continual improvement in workplace safety and health.

With Foulke serving as the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, Jonathan L. Snare, who has served as the interim head of OSHA since January 2005, will remain as the deputy assistant secretary of the agency, according to Department of Labor officials.

Foulke Less Controversial than Stickler

Foulke's nomination, for the most part, drew positive reaction from members of the health and safety community from the beginning of his nomination.

As an attorney who has specialized in the practice of labor and employment law, Foulke a partner in the firm of Jackson, Lewis, Scnitzler and Krupman, and a member of the firm's OSHA Practice Group also served as a member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) for 6 years, 5 years of which he served as its chairman.

His nomination has encountered less controversy than Richard Stickler, who President George W. Bush nominated head the Mine Health and Safety Administration (MSHA). Due to a series of coal mining disasters occurring since the beginning of the year, critics are looking MSHA's possible future head with a much more critical eye.

Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO, said that comparatively, Foulke looks a lot better than Stickler at the moment because "OSHA is not in a state of crisis as MSHA is right now."

Lack of "Front-line" Experience

Still, Seminario said she would have preferred to have someone with more than just narrow experience in workplace safety and health.

"He did a reasonable job while chairing the OSHRC," she said of Foulke. "To head OSHA, though, is a totally different job and it is better to have more significant experience on that front."

In a letter addressed to the Senate Oversight Committee, the American Industrial Hygiene Association announced their support for Foulke, although they too expressed reservation with regards to Foulke's "lack of personal front-line experience as a health and safety professional."

Arthur Sapper, an attorney at McDermott, Will & Emery who has known Foulke for many years, told OccupationalHazards.com on Oct.3, 2005 that Foulke's strength is his knowledge of the main issues and that Foulke didn't "need to be a safety and health professional to know what the policy issues are and to decide them intelligently." (See article "President Bush Names Attorney to Lead Agency.")

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), where Foulke is currently a member, praised Foulke's nomination and said he will have a lot to offer to OSHA as he currently serves as a member of the society's expertise panel on workplace health, safety and security.

"His expertise in workplace health and safety issues makes him an excellent choice to head OSHA," said Mike Aitken, director of governmental affairs for SHRM. "Ed has always been very generous in sharing his knowledge and expertise and has been a valuable resource on health and safety issues for all of us at SHRM."

A native of Perkasie, Pa., Foulke graduated from North Carolina State University in 1974. He received his Juris Doctor from Loyola University in 1978 and a Master of Law (LL.M.) degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1993. He also served as an adjunct professor at St. Mary's Dominican College in New Orleans.

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