Ellen Widess Appointed New Cal/OSHA Chief

On April 4, California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Ellen Widess the chief of Cal/OSHA. She will replace current chief Len Welsh, who has led the agency since 2003.

Widess was the senior program officer for the Rosenberg Foundation from 2000 to 2010, a consultant for the Centers for Disease Control on updated child labor standards from 1998 to 1999, executive director of Lead Safe California from 1994 to 1998 and the director of health policy at the Children’s Advocacy Institute from 1991 to 1994. She previously served at Cal/OSHA as the chief of the pesticide program from 1978 to 1984. She has worked as a consultant in the field of occupational safety and health and immigration policy since 2010.

“She’s been an advocate in the area of farm workers and immigrant labor. She brings a lot good experience to her new position, so that’s exciting,” Judi Freyman, principal, Western Occupational Safety and Health Operations, Mercer ORC Networks, told EHS Today.

Freyman said she anticipates that Widess may focus on enhanced enforcement in areas related to immigrant and unskilled labor and the state’s heat illness prevention and airborne disease standards. She added that Widess brings “a very good connection to federal OSHA” to the agency.

With the budget climate in California on shaky ground, however, Widess face challenges in her new role. “She’s going to have the challenge of limited resources and she’s going to have to be strategic about how she deploys those limited resources,” Freyman pointed out.

While Freyman credits current Cal/OSHA Chief Welsh with reaching out and attempting to work with all stakeholders in his role as Cal/OSHA chief, she said he often did so from an employer perspective and labor representatives are “eager to have someone in place who’s more responsive to the labor community and who will prioritize their concerns … although I am very hopeful in working toward a collaborative relationship between Ellen Widess and the employer community.”

Appeals Board Appointments

Also on April 4, Gov. Brown appointed Art Carter member and chair of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board. Carter has served on the board since 2009. In 1983, he was the deputy chief administrative officer for the city of San Francisco and from 1976 to 1983 he worked as the chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the Department of Industrial Relations.

Ed Lowry, a part-time hearing officer for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation since 2009, also was appointed to the appeals board. Lowry served as a deputy attorney general for the State of California from 2005 to 2007 and from 1988 to 1995; director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control from 1999 to 2005; director of the environmental project of the California District Attorneys Association from 1995 to 1999; and deputy city attorney for the city of San Francisco from 1987 to 1988.

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