Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Foulke, Stickler Get Committee Approval To Head OSHA & MSHA

Signaling that they think everything's just fine in America's mines and other workplaces, Republicans on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted today to confirm Richard Stickler as Assistant Secretary of Labor for MSHA, and Edwin Foulke as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA.

I'm don't know what the vote-count was on Foulke, but Stickler's confirmation was approved along party lines, with all of the Republicans voting in favor, and the Democrats voting against. The United Mineworkers, the AFL-CIO and the Charleston Gazette all opposed Stickler's confirmation.

The Mineworkers called the vote a "huge disappointment for all miners in America who are looking to their government to stand up for them instead of the coal companies."
"Since 2001, the coal operators have been in charge at MSHA," Roberts said, referring to Dave Lauriski, a coal company executive who was the Bush administration's first appointment to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). "Mr. Stickler would just be another fox guarding the henhouse.

"Career coal company managers and executives like Mr. Stickler spend their time figuring out how to get around safety rules and regulations in order to increase production," Robert said. "That's the last kind of person American coal miners need as our nation's top watchdog for safety."
Meanwhile, with Foulke at OSHA, we can expect more of the same -- emphasis on voluntary programs and not much else. Foulke is a labor relations and OSHA attorney at the Greenville, South Carolina union busting law-firm Jackson, Lewis LLP.

Inside OSHA (paid subscription) kindly provided Foulke's responses to the Democrats' written questions submitted after the hearing. (The Republicans refused to provide their questions.) Here's a sampling:

Senator Kennedy asked whether Foulke would support legislation to increase OSHA criminal penalties.
If confirmed, I would work with the DOL Solicitor to refer particularly egregious cases for criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice. I would have to review the current cases to see if the current criminal penalties need to be increased.
Translation: "When pigs fly."

Asked about steps he'll take to protect workers against the Avian Flu, Foulke responded that he'd "consult with the Centers for Disease Control, and recommend whatever actions are necessary to protect workers."

Well, considering the complicated issues involved in protecting workers, and the union petition to OSHA for a standard to protect health care workers against pandemic flu.taking "whatever actions are necessary," doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

When asked his opinion on using the General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) for ergonomics problems, considering that OSHA has only issued 17 ergonomics citations since the administration repealed the ergonomics standard in 2001, Foulke explained that he "will continue to cite employers for ergonomic hazards where action is warranted and the OSH Act Section 5(a)(1) criteria can be met." (emphasis added)

Senator Bingaman asked if there were any legislative reforms he would like to pursue that would help to improve OSHA’s enforcement record? In your dreams: "I believe OSHA’s legal authority is adequate to fulfill its mission of protecting the health and safety of American workers."

How's this for wishy, washy? Asked by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) whether he would "support the release of a Personal Protective Equipment rule that says employers should pay for protective clothing for their workers while on the job?"
If I am confirmed, I will examine the agency’s efforts to protect Hispanic workers, and make any changes I feel are needed. I would also note that OSHA regulations in general require employers to ensure that employers assess the nature of hazards their employees face and ensure their employees are using appropriate PPE to protect them from those hazards. Many OSHA standards require the use of specific PPE in specific situations.

I am aware that OSHA is considering a PPE requirement. If I am confirmed,
I will review the rulemaking record on this proposal.
And finally, Senator Patty Murray asked him if he thought that perhaps increased inspections or enforcement were called for to address the $1 billion a week that we are spending as a nation on workplace deaths and injuries.

Not exactly,
We must vigorously enforce the law. We must inculcate a “culture of safety” among employers through outreach, education, and technical assistance efforts. In addition, we must continue to reach out to workers themselves.
Yeah, culture of safety and a maybe a little jail time....

In his defense, Foulke did commit to "do everything in my power to prevent the use of safety-related 'sting' operations" support the updating of OSHA's antiquated chemical permissible exposure limits, and that he would continue to use OSHA's egregious policy to generate high fines "when appropriate." OSHA's "egregious policy" had come under attack by the OSHA Review Commission and the business community.

The full Senate must now vote on the two nominations. The vote has not been scheduled.