What's Ahead for OSHA, MSHA, DOL in 2017?

We'll know a lot more about the 2017 legislative and regulatory outlook on Nov. 9, 2016, once the presidential election is decided.

ANAHEIM -- Predicting the next year's regulatory actions by OSHA, MSHA, and the Labor Department isn't easy, and it's practically impossible right now -- when a presidential election is only 19 days away and the major party candidates are light years apart in terms of their priorities. Even in a year without a national election in which the U.S. president is certain to be replaced is no small feat, because the semiannual regulatory agendas released by these and other federal agencies tend to be wrong. They list dates that aren't met; even if they were, with OSHA's regulatory actions, lawsuits are almost certain to be filed to block them.

Barely three weeks ago, one such lawsuit succeeded: A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled unanimously that the agency had not properly changed the retail facilities exemption in its Process Safety Management standard following the explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas, on April 17, 2013.

But give Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels and his agency credit for trying. OSHA recent announced another standards improvement measure, and Michaels told Safety & Health magazine during the 2016 National Safety Congress & Expo here that OSHA will issue its final rule on walking/working surfaces, a rule intended to prevent slips and falls, before he steps down in January 2017.

Michaels visited the NSC conference to announce that OSHA has released a set of Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs to help employers establish a methodical approach to improving safety and health in their workplaces.

The new document updates OSHA's 1989 guidelines to reflect changes in the economy, in workplaces, and also evolving safety and health issues, according to the agency, which said the recommendations feature an easier-to-use format and should be particularly helpful to small- and medium-sized businesses. There is a new section on multi-employer workplaces and more emphasis on continuous improvement; supporting tools and resources are included.

"Since OSHA's original guidelines were published more than 25 years ago, employers and employees have gained a lot of experience in how to use safety and health programs to systematically prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace," said Michaels. "We know that working together to implement these programs will help prevent injuries and illnesses, and also make businesses more sustainable."

Speaking here, he asked business groups and safety and health professionals to help spread the word through a campaign to encourage creating safety and health programs using OSHA's or other program recommendations that may be more appropriate to their businesses.

The United States will have a new president in the Oval Office when the NSC 2017 conference begins next September in Indianapolis. Who that president is will have a lot of influence on regulatory initiatives and enforcement activity at the key agencies: DOL, OSHA (to be headed by a new assistant secretary after Michaels leaves in January 2017), MSHA, EPA, and even the Department of Energy, Department of Interior, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A new Congress will be in session, perhaps markedly different from the 114th Congress now in place, and possibly Senate and House committees' leadership and priorities will be different than they are now.

We'll know a lot more about the 2017 legislative and regulatory outlook on Nov. 9, 2016, once the presidential election is decided.

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