By Katie Tracy, Union of Concerned Scientists
Scott Mugno, Vice President for Safety, Sustainability, and Vehicle Maintenance at Fed Ex Ground in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is President Trump’s pick to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Although whispers of Mugno’s possible nomination had spread across Washington, D.C., over the past several months, not much has been said about his credentials for the job. One major concern is Mugno’s connection to the notoriously anti-regulatory U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for which he is currently the chairman of the OSHA subcommittee of the group’s Labor Relations Committee. And as Jordan Barab, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA, highlights in his excellent blog post on the nomination, Mugno expressed interest in sunsetting OSHA standards in comments he made at a Chamber event last year.
When Mugno goes before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for confirmation hearings, it will be imperative for senators to get him on the record on the important worker health, safety, and economic issues of our time. With an average of 13 workers dying on the job every day and suffering even more injuries, one thing we know for sure is that if Mugno is confirmed as Assistant Secretary at OSHA, he’ll have his work cut out for him.
Here are just a few of the many questions we would like answered before the Senate decides whether to confirm Mugno for the position:
- Do you think the nation’s workplaces are as safe as they need to be today, or do we need to do more to make them safer? If so, what actions should OSHA take to improve workplace safety?
- What new or updated standards do you think are most urgently needed to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses? What is your timeline for issuing them?
- Delaying and weakening standards like the silica or beryllium rules literally cost lives, cause preventable illnesses and injuries, and force workers and their families to shoulder the cost of medical expenses, as well as the emotional harm – all of which can be avoided easily. What would you say to those workers who you would be placing back in harm’s way by delaying or weakening rules already on the books? What actions would you take to prevent this from happening?
- Given the Congressional Review Act resolution disapproving OSHA’s recordkeeping rule extending the time the agency can cite employers for violations to up to five years, how will you ensure employers are maintaining accurate injury and illness records?
- OSHA has not issued permissible exposure levels (PELs) for many of the toxic chemicals present in the workplace, and many of OSHA’s existing PELs are inadequate to protect workers. What would you do to address this problem? Do you agree that OSHA lacks sufficient authority to address chemical risks? Do you think EPA may be better suited to this task under recent amendments to TSCA, as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels, suggested in a letter to EPA shortly before his departure from the position?
- Occupational disease is responsible for 137 deaths per day in the United States – about 50,000 workers a year, more than die in auto accidents. What would you do as Assistant Secretary to address this problem? What percentage reduction should we expect OSHA to achieve in four years?
- What are the most significant risks that climate change poses to workers’ health and safety, and how would you address those risks as Assistant Secretary?
- Heat stress is a well-documented occupational hazard. Thirty-five years ago, NIOSH recommended that OSHA adopt a standard addressing the problem, but OSHA has never done so. Furthermore, studies on the impacts of climate change for the labor sector all point to heat exposure as a primary concern for workers and employers. Will you push OSHA to adopt a rule? What other specific steps will you take to protect workers from the increasing threat of excessive heat exposure and to better educate employers about the risks?
- The OSH Act has always recognized the critical role of workers as OSHA’s “eyes and ears” inside the workplace, reporting health and safety hazards. This helps inform OSHA of hazardous conditions before an incident occurs and helps the agency prioritize inspections. However, this system isn’t working because many workers fear they will be retaliated against if they raise concerns. As Assistant Secretary, what steps would you take to improve OSHA’s whistleblower protection program?
- What do you say to the Latino/Hispanic workers who are afraid to report dangerous workplace conditions for fear of an ICE agent showing up? What specifically would you do to ensure ICE agents do not conduct “sting” operations targeting immigrant workers, as has happened in the past?
- During labor nominee Alexander Acosta’s confirmation hearing in March, he raised concerns about potential cuts to OSHA’s inspection staff. Do you share his concerns? Do you think we have enough inspectors now? What do you think is the optimal number of inspection staff?
- Do you intend to shift resources in OSHA’s enforcement budget away from inspections and enforcement and toward compliance assistance? Do you intend to increase OSHA’s reliance on Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP)? If so, what evidence have you seen that such programs are effective and a good use of taxpayer money? Can you identify any credible case studies to support your claim?
- Even with civil penalty adjustments at OSHA in 2016, the agency routinely discounts penalties and modifies, reclassifies, or withdraws citations to encourage employers to settle citations informally instead of contesting them. While this practice has some short-term benefits, over time, it reduces the deterrent effect of agency enforcement, as employers know the agency will negotiate down to a penalty that has little impact on the company’s profit margin or ability to contract with larger companies or win government contracts. What would you do as Assistant Secretary to stop these discounts and enhance the deterrent effect of OSHA enforcement actions?
- Under David Michaels, OSHA made a practice of referring fatality cases involving a willful violation to the Department of Justice for potential criminal prosecution. Will you commit to continuing this practice?