President Joseph Biden has nominated the head of California’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health to play the same role in Washington, as head of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The nominee, Doug Parker, was a member of the Biden transition team at the end of last year and the start of this one.
OSHA was created by a bill signed into law by President Richard Nixon in December 1970. The agency’s mission is to assure safe and healthy working conditions for employees in US workplaces by both setting and enforcing standards.
OSHA has been very visible during the controversies over the Coronavirus pandemic. In mid-April the Smithfield Foods packing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota became a hot spot for the spread of the virus among employees. The state’s Governor, Kristi Noem, resisted any enforcement measures at the state level to protect Smithfield employees. The federal OSHA stepped in. But as a consequence, plant management was merely fined $13,494, which seemed to many observers absurdly de minimus.
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OSHA, and thus its new chief, seem likely to remain under a political microscope as the numbers of people who have received a vaccine increases, and more businesses re-open their old non-virtual workplace. Surely there will be some pressures for a return to an old normal, and other efforts at making OSHA an enforcement for a healthier new normal. Parker gets to sort it out.