The U.S. election is over and it's time to look ahead. What can we expect from a Barack Obama administration as far as health and safety is concerned? At this point, it's all conjecture. However, what we do know are the positions Obama took on key OSHA issues as a Senator and presidential candidate, including:
Enforcement Strategy: During the campaign, Obama criticized the Bush administration for its supposed lax enforcement of OSHA standards.
Voluntary Programs: A corollary to the Obama critique of the Bush enforcement policy is that the administration has relied too heavily on "weak voluntary programs at the expense of proven enforcement mechanisms" like inspections. Candidly, this characterization is unfair and more the product of politics than policy. Voluntary programs like VPP pre-date George W. Bush and have proven effective. As President, Obama is unlikely to disturb and, if I had to bet, will even end up expanding them.
New OSHA Standards: The biggest difference between a Bush and Obama OSHA will probably be in standard making. Good, bad or indifferent, it's a fact that the Bush administration has promulgated fewer new OSHA standards than any of its predecessors. And while it hasn't exactly "rolled back" standards, the administration has spent as much effort on paring back parts of standards that it deems inefficient, outdated and unnecessarily burdensome as it has in promulgating new ones. Look for Obama to reverse this policy
Ergonomics: One of the first OSHA standard making initiatives of an Obama administration will likely involve ergonomics. During the campaign, Obama expressed support for the Clinton ergonomics standard that Congress scuttled in 2001.
Safety Training: Obama has called for increased OSHA funding for safety training programs including training for small business and construction and other high risk employers.
OSHA Reform: As Senator, Obama co-sponsored a bill that would:
- Extend OSHA coverage to public employees;
- Raise the maximum fine for OSHA violations to $250,000;
- Provide for possible criminal penalties for employers in cases of fatalities; and
- Increase whistleblower protections for workers who raise safety concerns.