Regulatory Developments, Special Topics in Safety Management

With a New DOL Secretary Approved, New OSHA Head Expected to Follow

With just hours to go before President Trump’s one-hundredth day in office, the U.S. Senate completed the president’s cabinet by approving R. Alexander Acosta as the new Secretary of Labor.

Capitol building

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Acosta, an acclaimed lawyer who most recently served as dean of Florida International University’s College of Law, was nominated in February after Trump’s original pick, former fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, withdrew his name from consideration amid controversy about some of his positions and practices. Acosta was sworn into office Friday by Vice-President Mike Pence following the Senate vote.

A native of Miami, Acosta will become the only Hispanic member of President Trump’s cabinet. It’s not yet known when he will announce his choice for assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, the post formerly held by Dr. David Michaels.

Some of Acosta’s views on job safety came to light during hearings by the Senate Health, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee last month. In introductory remarks, Acosta noted the importance of good, safe jobs and said he considers job safety “incredibly important.” During the hearings, and in a lengthy letter to Acosta, Massachusetts Democrat and HELP committee member Senator Elizabeth Warren sought his views on pursuing criminal penalties for safety violations, OSHA funding, and OSHA’s new silica rule, which Acosta would not commit to enforcing.

Busy Week for Job Safety

News of the Senate’s approval of Acosta came a day after a memo was sent from Dorothy Dougherty, deputy assistant secretary for OSHA, to regional administrators rescinding OSHA’s union walkaround rule. Under the Obama administration, agency rules were changed to permit a non-employee labor representative to accompany an OSHA inspection officer during the inspection of a workplace without a collective bargaining agreement.

Another potentially significant development came this week when OSHA forwarded a proposal to the Office of Management and Budget on worker protections from beryllium dust. Some observers believe the proposal represents a weakening, or possible elimination of coverage for workers in the construction and maritime sectors. The final rule as it currently exists covers general industry, construction, and shipyards.

The effective date of the beryllium standard has been extended to May 20. Last year OSHA issued a new beryllium rule that significantly enhanced protection from the deadly dust. Beryllium exposure is linked to lung cancer.

Acosta’s nomination was met with cautious optimism by some in the safety community who had strongly opposed the failed nomination of Andrew Puzder. Among them was AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka who said Acosta’s qualifications make him a more preferable choice than Puzder, but said he had no indication of how those qualifications would be used to “stand up for workers.”