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How Will Obama’s Re-Election Impact Occupational Safety and Health?

Nov. 7, 2012
President Barack Obama emerged the winner following a long and divisive election season. What will 4 more years of the Obama administration mean for OSHA and for occupational safety and health?

What does President Barack Obama’s winning re-election bid mean for the future of OSHA and occupational health and safety in general? According to Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), Obama’s re-election is unlikely to result in any drastic changes in the occupational safety and health arena.

“I don’t see this administration making a big push on specific OSHA issues,” Trippler said.

Congress, he explained, is going to be tied up for months to address the deficit and budget. OSHA, meanwhile, likely will continue to push its proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) as a No. 1 priority. He added that OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels – assuming he continues to lead the agency throughout Obama’s second term – possibly may also take steps to update the long-outdated permissible exposure limits (PELs).

“I would like to see OSHA try to address putting together an option for updating permissible exposure limits,” Trippler said. “Yes, I’d like to see them move on some of the other issues, like silica and beryllium, combustible dust and [diacetyl], but I just don’t know if they can. I think they’d be better to limit themselves to two to three things and move those things forward.”

Trippler anticipated that under another 4 years of the Obama administration, OSHA likely “will focus funds on enforcement to show enforcement has had an impact.” He also suggested keeping a close eye on the relationship between federal OSHA and state plans, which receive 50 percent of their funding from federal OSHA. If OSHA’s budget is slashed, Trippler said, state programs may struggle to support themselves.

“I think you’ll see OSHA and state plans working closely together, [and] this administration working closely with third parties,” he said.

The Future of OSHA

Before these issues can be addressed, safety stakeholders will have to wait and see whether Michaels will be asked to stay on as OSHA administrator – and if so, whether he will elect to continue leading the agency. Trippler thinks so, but nothing is certain.

“I would think that this administration would continue on with the progress made with OSHA,” he said, and added that he expects Michaels would want to stay on as OSHA administrator, “especially now that he has an opportunity to move I2P2 forward.”

Trippler also pointed out that, particularly with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., recently announcing her retirement, occupational safety and health stakeholders lack a vocal supporter and champion of EHS issues in Congress.

“That’s the toughest thing we face,” he said, “to try to find someone to listen to the issues to try to move them forward.”

To see what EHS Today readers had to say about the election and presidential candidates this summer, read The Politics of Safety.

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