The election has produced status quo in Washington DC: President Obama re-elected, Democrats control the Senate, Republicans control the House. However, don’t expect the status quo at OSHA in the next four years.
On OSHA’s wish-list for the last four years: legislation that would increase the maximum amounts for fines.
With Republicans in control of the House, OSHA is still unlikely to get that.
But you can expect enforcement to increase anyway. Why? Because Obama’s OSHA was able to do that already:
- The number of inspections per year has increased from an average of 38,000 to just under 41,000
- The average cost of a serious violation has more than doubled; OSHA’s goal is to bring that average to $3,000, and the agency is on target to reach the goal
- More companies are facing total fines of more than $100,000 after inspections, which OSHA calls “significant cases;” in 2010 only 164 companies had significant cases, but in 2012 that jumped to 217, a 32% increase, and
- OSHA under President Obama and administrator David Michaels is more likely to characterize violations as willful, which carry a $70,000 maximum fine, compared to serious violations which have a $7,000 max. The agency also makes use of “egregious willful” violation status, under which the agency can multiply the $70,000 fine by the number of workers affected.
New and updated regulations
Three proposed regulatory updates are far enough along in the pipeline that they could be enacted quickly:
- An update of electrical power transmission and distribution regulations could come as soon as this month
- An update of the walking and working surfaces regulations could arrive after a review by the Office of Management and Budget, which is usually limited to 90 days, and
- An update of the silica regulations is also on tap, although Michaels indicated last month that it could be delayed again because regulators need to figure out how to incorporate the new hydraulic fracturing industry, commonly known as fracking, into the revised silica rules.
Four more new regulations that could be completed by the end of Obama’s second term:
- combustible dust
- Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2)
- infectious diseases, and
- Backup alarms on construction vehicles.
OSHA is also trying to figure out how to more easily update permissible exposure limits (PELs) for hazardous substances.
And as long as this administration is in charge, old-style safety incentive programs that rewarded employees for having fewer injuries are still looked upon as a bad thing because they can cause workers to hide injuries to receive rewards.