ASSE: Will Foulke's OSHA Set More Standards?

As OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. makes the rounds at the major occupational safety and health conferences, he's making it a point to touch upon some similar (and safe) themes: his passion for safety, his low tolerance for safety scofflaws and his desire to improve OSHA's image.

But yesterday's Q&A with the press corps on hand at the American Society of Safety Engineers' 2006 Conference and Exposition in Seattle was Foulke's first stab at publicly tackling some meatier issues.

Foulke stumbled on a few questions, but for the most part seemed relatively at ease fielding media inquiries on topics ranging from OSHA's enforcement posture to its regulatory agenda.

Foulke fell back on a few boilerplate responses he was quick to point out that "one fatality is too many" but in some of his more substantive responses he hinted that a more aggressive standard-setting agenda could be on the horizon.

Referring to OSHA's effort to update 29 CFR 1926 the Cranes and Derricks standard Foulke said: "I've been looking at Cranes and Derricks, because I want to move that along."

The existing Cranes and Derricks standard dates back to 1971 and is based, in part, on industry consensus standards that go back as far as the late 1950s. OSHA, which completed the negotiated rulemaking process in July 2004, currently is conducting an economic analysis of the draft Cranes and Derricks rule to determine if an SBREFA (Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act) panel will be needed to determine the rule's impact on small businesses.

Asked when the SBREFA panel would commence if needed Foulke answered: "If it's gonna [be needed], it's gonna be soon."

"You're going to find that I don't like sitting around," Foulke said. "I like making decisions and getting things done."

Such comments certainly have the potential to tantalize stakeholders who have been pushing OSHA to promulgate more and tougher safety and health standards. But Foulke also credited former OSHA Administrator John Henshaw who was criticized by some stakeholders for failing to issue any major safety and health standards during his regime for cutting down on the number of items OSHA placed on its regulatory agenda.

"The agency wasn't working on those things," Foulke said. "You've gotta be fair. I'm big on being fair and honest with people. If you're not doing something, don't pretend like you are."

When one reporter asked if any new standards were on the horizon, Foulke's response essentially was: We'll see. But even that answer ended with the potential promise of a busier regulatory agenda.

"I've been approached by some associations that would like to do some negotiated rulemaking," Foulke said. "We're going to look into that. We'll see how that works. My feeling is we have things we need to work on already in place, and while I'm in my tenure I'd like to at least get some things out there. I mean I would like to make sure we put out a number of [additional] standards and move things along."

"The Other Side of OSHA"

Foulke, who was sworn in as the head of OSHA on April 3, also fielded questions on:

OSHA's tight budget Asked about how he plans to accomplish his objectives for the agency in such austere times, Foulke answered that OSHA needs to get the most out of its partnerships and alliances with stakeholder organizations such as ASSE.

He noted that without the Special Government Employees program which allows volunteers from private industry to assist OSHA officials with inspections at potential VPP sites "it would slow up the [VPP] process dramatically." Foulke also talked about narrowing the agency's focus and making decisions at a crisp pace.

"You make a decision, you move on. You make a decision, you move on. That's kind of where I'm going to be and I think if I do that I'll get things moving quicker."

Enforcement Foulke, at times during his first 2 months in office, has talked tough. He even promised to pay a visit to a St. Louis employer that allegedly has been thumbing its nose at OSHA's attempts to bring the employer in line. But when asked about whether his comments signal a more aggressive approach to enforcement, Foulke answered: "It's a balancing act."

While he referred to compliance assistance "as our next step,"he also said that "enforcement is critical."

"We can't reach all the employers by just doing enforcement," Foulke said. "We have to have outreach and compliance assistance. But Lord knows if they don't want to accept our help, I'm happy to show them the other side of OSHA."

Advisory committees Foulke said he plans to re-energize OSHA's relationship with advisory bodies such as the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health and the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. "They provide valuable information, insight, recommendations," Foulke said.

He then referenced a quotation from the Bible "that talks about a wise king having many counselors, and I firmly believe that."

"I found that when I was on the [Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission], the more people I talked to and listened to and got their input from, the better," Foulke said. "And I need all the help I can get."

For more on Foulke in his first 2 months on the job, read "OSHA Chief Promises Passion And a Tougher Enforcement Edge?" and ASSE: OSHA's Role is Good Cop, Foulke Says."

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