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February 6, 2017

The Possible Impact of Regulatory Reductions on Workplace Safety Enforcement

On January 30, President Trump signed an executive order entitled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs,” which targets the reduction of the number of regulations issued by the federal government.  The order requires federal agencies to eliminate two regulations for each new one introduced.

Trump has been quoted in saying, “There will be regulation, there will be control, but it will be a normalized control where you can open your business and expand your business very easily.”  The executive order specifies that new regulations issued by the federal government in 2017 “…shall be no greater than zero.” 

For many of us Health and Safety professionals who rely on OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom) for guidance in creating mandated written hazard communication programs, employee training and understanding, we are scratching our heads and asking, “What does this reduction in regulations mean for our industry?”  

Labor-law experts predict that OSHA will move away from an enforcement-based strategy and toward compliance assistance and cooperative programs for employers.  It will be interesting to see what strategy OSHA takes to accomplish this.  OSHA was established to standardize safety for all workers, and, in 1983, introduced HazCom.  In addition to issuing updates to the HazCom standard, OSHA implemented enforcement activities to support employee safety.  In January, OSHA updated its civil penalties for noncompliance, and, more recently, published its annual report of the top 10 citations for 2016 where HazCom violations came in second; unchanged from the 2015 report.  

There are questions around how this change will affect OSHA’s funding.  A decrease may require OSHA to review how its funds are spent.  Will that limit its enforcement activities or staffing?  While fines generated through enforcement are substantial, one could still assume there might be a reduction in this area, especially targeting small businesses. Regardless, we should not allow any reduction of enforcement to diminish our obligation to ensure chemical safety in the workplace.

Companies should continue to develop and implement a written Hazard Communication program.  They should continue to train their employees about workplace hazards and how to prevent them.  Employees should be made aware of how to obtain a safety data sheet (SDS) and understand the label information on products.  OSHA's guidance has not changed.

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