With the reality of a Donald Trump presidency still less than 24 hours old, there’s a lot of scrambling in the “expert” community to figure out exactly what this is going to mean with respect to various major federal regulatory schemes. Environmental and safety experts are scrambling like everybody else (although I imagine the safety experts are doing so at a reasonable pace, always on the lookout for slip, trip, and fall hazards).
So what might a Trump presidency mean for OSHA and worker safety? I was asked this question by a group I was speaking to in D.C. back in late June of this year. At the time, it seemed like a premature exercise in exploring hypothetical alternative histories. At the time, there was also no clear answer. Now, of course, here we are. Time to dust-off the crystal ball...
Broadly, there are two ways to look at President-Elect Trump’s potential impact on OSHA and worker safety: 1) what are Trump’s aspirations with respect to OSHA?; and, 2) how will the regulated community really be affected?
With respect to Trump’s aspirations, we might expect his OSHA to de-emphasize inspections and enforcement, issue fewer citations, be less interested in new regulations, and perhaps provide less protection for whistleblowers (this last one could prove to be interesting, though, as many of the folks who had a hand in electing Trump are the same working class laborers that whistleblower provisions are purportedly designed to protect).
The Trump administration may also consider rolling back recent OSHA regulatory changes including the Electronic Reporting Rule and this summer’s increase in OSHA’s maximum penalties. I also think it goes without saying that OSHA’s one year old cooperative enforcement program with USEPA and the Department of Justice is likely dead in the water. For those of you who attended my presentation on this initiative at the Ohio Bar’s Annual Environmental Law Seminar in Columbus back in April, there will be no refunds (even if you have your receipt)...
So how could this all affect the regulated community and EH&S professionals? It depends. Largely, the industrial mainstream (e.g., Fortune 500 companies) isn’t relying upon OSHA to play goalie. The vast majority of companies in the United States legitimately care about employee safety, and embrace their obligation to keep their employees safe. To the extent there are outliers interested in seeing how much they can get away with while putting employees at risk, it could become more dangerous to work at one of those facilities. For better or worse, though, most of us in the EH&S community aren’t employed by those outliers.
One thing is certain: things will change. Make sure you’ve got the proper guide to help you see around corners. If you’re facing an open inspection or have pending citations, consider engaging a professional to talk about how this shifting landscape might impact you between now and Inauguration Day in January.