OSHA Program Changes on Hold, Waiting for Trump Leadership

By Bruce Rolfsen

Program and policy changes at OSHA are on hold until the Trump administration appoints leadership at the agency, officials from the Department of Labor’s Office of the Solicitor and OSHA said March 8.

Among the changes on hold are discussions about revisions to the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), said Occupational Safety and Health Administration director of enforcement Thomas Galassi. The program enables the agency to place employers with significant alleged violations under close scrutiny.

“Once we have political leadership, we’ll have those discussions,” Galassi told about 100 attorneys with practices focused on on-the-job safety and health issues at the Midwinter Meeting of the American Bar Association’s Occupational Safety and Health Law Committee in Jupiter, Fla.

Since the severe violator program’s start in 2010, it has been criticized by employer groups for damaging employers’ reputations even while citations are being appealed. About 510 employers are labeled severe violators.

Also on hold are initiating new regional and local emphasis programs, singling out industries for increased inspections.

“Due to the transition, we haven’t moved on any of these yet,” Galassi said.

Cooperative or Coerced?

Attorneys representing employers expect that OSHA under President Donald Trump will make cooperative and consultation programs a higher priority for the agency.

Labor officials highlighted corporate-wide settlement agreements as a way OSHA and large employers with numerous violations can cooperate instead of litigate.

The agreements are typically reached after a company has been cited for OSHA violations at multiple locations. In exchange for the employer agreeing to make substantial improvements to its safety efforts, OSHA will often cut fines by upwards of 50 percent.

Orlando Pannocchia, the labor solicitor’s counsel for regional litigation, said the agreements are a “cooperative venture” between the employer, workers and OSHA.

But industry attorney Eric Hobbs of Ogletree Deakins PC’s Milwaukee office questioned how equal the relationship between an employer and OSHA could be.

“An enforcement partnership is oxymoronic,” said Hobbs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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