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Obama's OSHA

The country's safety watchdog is gearing up for some changes.

Change is coming to America," a confident President Obama announced. Indeed, Americans and the rest of the world are waiting to see what the new administration has to offer. On the safety front, however, experts have already anticipated how the new OSHA will impact safety.

According to Washington lawyer Baruch Fellner, who has collaborated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, America can expect "a much more activist and interventionist OSHA on both the enforcement and regulatory fronts."

The changes safety advocates expect to see at OSHA include:

  • Increase in targeted investigations
  • Harsher penalties for injury cover-ups
  • More protection from repetitive motion injuries
  • A shift to enforcement of standards and away from cooperation programs such as VPPP
  • New laws such as Protecting America's Workers Act which pushes for higher penalties for safety breaches and a maximum 10-year prison term for employers with "willful OSHA violations" that cause worker deaths
  • More regulatory standards - critics contend there were too few written during the Bush administration.

"The agency will reestablish itself as a leader in safety and health as opposed to an agency that is doing the bare minimum to get by," predicted AFL-CIO safety director Peg Seminario.

However, the road ahead may not be an easy one. A limited budget, staff shortage and the financial crisis may slow down OSHA's efforts to effect "sweeping change."