Government Affairs


4 OSHA Issues to Follow in Early 2021
James Thornton, CSP, CIH, FASSP | Chair, ASSP Government Affairs Committee

It would be fascinating to travel into the future and see what history will say about 2020 . As the year closes out, we all have experienced life-altering events that will be forever etched in our memories. Time will determine the impact of these events, but certainly “new normals” have and will be formed. Virtually every facet of our lives has changed – socially, financially and professionally. The same is true of occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals. Throughout our careers, we have used our education and skills to help workers return safely to their families at the end of their workday. During COVID-19, many of us are using technology to perform those tasks from afar. We have had to learn new skills and alter our behaviors. We have all been challenged in new ways. OSHA has been similarly impacted by the pandemic. Agency personnel have coped with COVID-19 while also working to help employers address hazards arising in essential industries. Like ASSP, during the pandemic, OSHA has had to reflect on how best to pursue its mission in the face of adversity and make many operational adjustments to meet that challenge. As of this writing, a new administration will be in place in January 2021 and it will likely have a much different approach to OSH. As a result, the agency will be expected to quickly transition to a new operating philosophy.

Here’s a look at four key issues facing OSHA in early 2021:

1. Agency Leadership
OSHA has been without an assistant secretary for this entire Trump Administration. Despite this, thanks to the leadership of an acting administrator, the agency has made progress and engaged effectively with key stakeholders, including professional organizations like ASSP, organized labor groups and employer groups. What will happen with the incoming administration? The names of several candidates for this position are being discussed, and OSH organizations like ASSP have been contacted for information about them. While the question of the Senate majority remains unknown for now, it’s likely the incoming administration will quickly nominate a candidate and begin the confirmation process.

2. Regulatory Enforcement
OSHA is perpetually challenged about the annual number of inspections performed. It seems to be THE metric against which the agency is gauged. Labor always demands more, while management always wants fewer. Much less focus is placed on the actual depth of the inspections. At the beginning of the current administration, labor groups voiced concern that the number of inspections would be dramatically reduced. From 2016 to 2018, the number of annual inspections has remained fairly steady at approximately 32,000. Additionally, many inspections have generated relatively high levels of penalties consistent with past practice.

Consequently, there appears to be a relative level of acceptance about to the number of inspections. OSHA has established policies with respect to inspections in industries returning in the wake of COVID-19, although the current resurgence is affecting many of these industries. This will certainly affect the number and type of inspections performed in 2021, and there also appears to be several formal employee complaints generated from COVID activities. And while the agency has a well-structured, sustainable plan for performing inspections given its current staffing levels, it is likely that the new administration will be urged to increase enforcement activities.

3. Federal Safety Regulations
In an effort to obtain a zero-net cost impact to industries, the current administration instituted a “one -in, two-out” order with respect to implementing new federal standards. Despite this executive order, OSHA remained active in rulemaking, promulgated standards and/or compliance guidance on topics such as beryllium, silica, recordkeeping, heat, whistleblowers, medical records and COVID-19. It is important to note that several executive orders issued in 2020 require all government agencies to identify standards that may inhibit economic recovery and rescind/modify/waive requirements as necessary. Several of these orders urge government agencies to use latitude when enforcing standards that have significant impact on economic recovery. Another recent order requires government agencies like OSHA to post all guidance documents on a website, mandating that anything not posted would be viewed as rescinded for enforcement purposes. The new administration will likely reverse these orders. It will also likely reinvigorate standards activity on topics such as workplace violence, heat exposures, infectious diseases and possibly even permissible exposure limits (PELs). As these standard activities increase, ASSP will call on its practice specialty member communities to help formulate our response.

4. Potential Developments
A laundry list of other developments could emerge in the near future. For example:

  • The Trump administration may issue some “midnight rules,” although time is running out.
  • OSHA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. Could a “new and improved” version of OSHA be in the making? The new administration could push for renewed congressional attention to the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which would require significant OSHA reform.
  • Any actions related to revising the many outdated PELs would be a significant development for OSH professionals and their organizations.
  • OSHA might develop an emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 as we have seen in several states.
  • Look for renewed support of federal advisory committees such as NACOSH and MACOSH.
  • Other activities could address recordkeeping, guidance on using drones for inspections and the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order from 2014 that disqualifies contractors with poor safety records from obtaining federal contracts.

ASSP Is Your Advocate The ASSP Government Affairs Committee monitors these issues and represents ASSP members and their interests. The committee works closely with ASSP staff and key connections inside the Beltway to advance our positions on emerging regulations, standards and other matters that could affect our members and/or our profession.
ASSP is a well-respected resource regularly sought out by various governmental agencies. Policymakers view us as an “honest broker” thanks to our straightforward, science-based approach to OSH. In the coming year, the committee will work to develop stronger communications with our regions, chapters and members so we can better represent your interests. Please visit our Government Affairs webpages, subscribe to our newsletter and log in to review our Government Affairs toolkit. If you need help getting started, have a matter of concern for the committee to review or want to get more engaged, please contact the Government Affairs team.

OSHA Seeking Nominations for Advisory Committee on Construction Safety & Health

OSHA is seeking nominations for the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH). Submissions are due by Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. ACCSH advises OSHA on the formulation of standards affecting the construction industry, and on policy matters arising in the administration of the safety and health provisions under the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act and the OSH Act. Those acts require the OSHA administrator to consult with ACCSH before the agency proposes any occupational safety and health standard affecting construction activities.

Nominations must include the following information:

  • Nominee’s contact information and current employment or position
  • Nominee’s resume or curriculum vitae, including prior membership on ACCSH and other relevant organizations and associations
  • Category of membership (employer, employee, public, state safety and health agency) that the nominee is qualified to represent)
  • A summary of the background, experience and qualifications that addresses the nominee’s suitability for each of the nominated membership categories
  • Articles or other documents the nominee has authored that indicate the nominee’s knowledge, experience and expertise in occupational safety and health, particularly as it pertains to the construction industry
  • A statement that the nominee is aware of the nomination, is willing to regularly attend and participate in ACCSH meetings, and has no conflicts of interest that would preclude membership on ACCSH

You may submit nominations and supporting materials electronically; by fax (202-693-1648); or by mail to U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210. For information about the submission requirements, member selections and additional contact information, refer to the Federal Register notice.


OSHA Issues Guidance on COVID-19 Related Inspections

Nov 11, 2020

COVID-19 continues to present challenges to safety professionals in protecting workers against exposure to the virus. New OSHA guidance provides employers insight into which OSHA standards have been most frequently cited during COVID-19-related inspections. The agency encourages employers to use this information to take additional steps to safeguard their employees.

These inspections were initiated following referrals, complaints and fatalities in settings and industries including nursing homes and long-term care settings and meat/poultry processing facilities.

The most frequent violations include:

  • Not performing appropriate fit testing of respirators
  • Failure to keep required records of work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities
  • Improper storage of respirators and other PPE in a way that can damage, contaminate or deform the equipment
  • Not conducting an assessment to determine if COVID-19 hazards are present or likely to be present, requiring the use of a respirator and/or other PPE
  • Insufficient training on the safe use of respirators and/or other PPE in the workplace
  • Failure to establish, implement and update a written respiratory protection program with required site-specific procedures
  • Not providing a medical evaluation before workers are fit-tested or use a respirator

The guidance notes that while OSHA has temporarily exercised some enforcement discretion regarding respirators, employers must demonstrate and document good-faith efforts to comply with OSHA standards, as summarized in Understanding Compliance With OSHA’s Respiratory Standard During the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic.


  1. (October 9, 2020) U.S. Department of Labor Urges Workers, Employers and PublicTo Be Aware of Hazards After Hurricane Delta

ATLANTA, GA – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) urges response crews and residents in areas affected by Hurricane Delta to be aware of hazards created by flooding, power loss, structural damage, fallen trees, and storm debris.

Recovery efforts after the storm may involve hazards related to restoring electricity and communications, removing debris, repairing water damage, repairing or replacing roofs, and trimming trees. Only individuals with proper training, equipment, and experience should conduct recovery and cleanup activities.

Protective measures after a weather disaster should include:

  • Evaluating the work area for hazards;
  • Assessing the stability of structures and walking surfaces;
  • Ensuring fall protection when working on elevated surfaces;
  • Assuming all power lines are live;
  • Keeping portable generators outside;
  • Operating chainsaws, ladders and other equipment properly; and
  • Using personal protective equipment, such as gloves, hard hats, and hearing, foot and eye protection.

“Workers involved in storm cleanup can face a wide range of safety and health hazards,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta, Georgia. “Implementing safe work practices, using appropriate personal protective equipment and ensuring workers are properly trained can help minimize the risk of injuries and fatalities during storm cleanup operations.”

OSHA maintains a comprehensive webpage on hurricane preparedness and response with safety tips to help employers and workers, including an alert on keeping workers safe during flood cleanup. Individuals involved in response and recovery efforts may call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

  1. (October 2, 2020) U.S. Department of Labor Issues Guidance for Using Tight-FittingPowered Air Purifying Respirators Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued temporary guidance for enforcing initial and annual fit-testing requirements related to tight-fitting powered air-purifying respirators. The action marks the Department’s latest step to ensure the availability of respirators and follows President Donald J. Trump’s Memorandum on Making General Use Respirators Available.

The new enforcement discretion policy permits the use of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved tight-fitting powered air-purifying respirators for protection against the coronavirus when initial and/or annual fit testing is infeasible due to respirator and fit-testing supply shortages. The guidance applies to healthcare personnel and other workers in high or very high exposure risk activities.

The guidance does not apply to powered air-purifying respirators that:

  • Have not been approved by NIOSH;
  • Are used by any workers with low or medium exposure risk to the coronavirus;
  • Are used by any workers for protection against airborne hazards other than the coronavirus, such as chemical hazards; or
  • Are loose-fitting and do not require fit testing.

If respiratory protection must be used, employers may consider the use of alternative classes of respirators that provide equal or greater protection compared to a N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirator, such as N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, and P100 respirators and NIOSH-approved, non-disposable elastomeric respirators or powered air-purifying respirators, either loose-fitting or tight-fitting.

This interim guidance will take effect immediately and remain in effect until further notice. It is intended to be time-limited to the current public health crisis. Visit OSHA’s Coronavirus webpage regularly for updates. For further information about the coronavirus, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance. For more information, visit

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.