Enforcement and Inspection

ASSP, NSC Welcome Parker Confirmation to OSHA

The U.S. Senate October 26 confirmed the appointment of Doug Parker as assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health—a move applauded by the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) and National Safety Council (NSC). Parker, former head of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), becomes the first permanent head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since David Michaels left at the end of the Obama administration.

“This leadership role was unoccupied for too long, and the position is more important than ever given the workplace safety challenges created by the pandemic and the continuing evolution of how work is performed,” ASSP President Brad Giles said in a statement.

“We recognize that Doug is a strong proponent of protecting workers and believe his public policy experience will help OSHA,” Giles continued. “We look forward to working with Doug and his staff on many occupational safety and health issues.”

The NSC said it anticipated “working closely with Mr. Parker toward our shared goal of zero workplace fatalities.” It also said it hoped to work closely with OSHA to increase worker uptake of COVID-19 vaccines through employers to end the pandemic, reversing an upward trend in workplace fatalities and increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace safety field.

ASSP also recently released “A Blueprint for Occupational Safety and Health Reform.” The COVID-19 pandemic has “put a spotlight on the long-standing challenges to occupational safety and health in this country,” the group said, and OSHA “should take advantage of this time to reduce injuries, illnesses, and fatalities by embracing innovation and collaboration.”

ASSP’s recommendations to OSHA included adopting a risk-based approach, requiring employer safety and health management programs. While California regulations require written injury and illness prevention programs, OSHA has only issued voluntary safety and health management program guidelines. ASSP argues that risk-based approaches in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and South Korea requiring safety and health management programs are more effective than regulatory compliance.

ASSP also recommends a risk-based approach to injury and illness recordkeeping, with requirements for recording leading indicators of injury and illness, as well as lagging indicators—incident reports. The group argues that OSHA’s recordkeeping rule focuses on lagging injury and illness data, “discouraging employers from embracing a holistic risk-based approach.”

The group also suggested that OSHA launch a National Emphasis Program (NEP) for transportation-related incidents, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of workplace fatalities in 2019. The group also believes OSHA should collaborate with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to address preventable transportation-related fatalities.

ASSP also suggested that OSHA address its funding and staffing levels by expanding third-party auditing. Most establishments “can expect an OSHA inspection once every 140 years,” according to ASSP. Workers at small and midsize businesses would be better served by nonagency auditors, who could perform workplace inspections, provide employers with their findings, and recommend implementation timetables. Third-party auditing could supplement OSHA’s on-site consultation program, according to the group.

ASSP contends that OSHA standards lag technological changes in the workplace and encourages the agency to expand its use of industry consensus standards and utilize negotiated rulemakings, which can be quicker than traditional rulemaking and involve extensive stakeholder participation.

The group also suggested that OSHA rely on exposure control banding methods to address outdated permissible exposure limits, many of which were set in the 1970s. It also encouraged the agency to collaborate more closely with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), especially in the area of Total Worker Health.