Taking Stock of OEHS Issues in the Trump Administration
Threats and

By the hundred-day mark of President Trump’s administration, both advocates and opponents of occupational and environmental health and safety policies could point to successes─even if, for some, success meant nothing more than avoiding their worst fears. Early in the new president’s term, OSHA delayed the effective date of its recent beryllium rule. Enforcement of the Respirable Silica in Construction standard, one of two standards that comprise the agency’s 2016 silica rule, was also delayed. In Congress, where Republicans control both houses, an Obama-era OSHA rule clarifying the obligation of employers to establish and maintain accurate records of certain work-related injuries and illnesses for five years was permanently revoked. But the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 made it through both houses with relatively minor cuts for OEHS programs. As this article went to press, the beryllium rule was under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and a successor to David Michaels as OSHA chief had not yet been named. Days after the Senate confirmed R. Alexander Acosta as secretary of Labor, and weeks before President Trump released his 2018 budget proposals, which included significant cuts in funding for OEHS agencies (see below),
The Synergist
sat down with Mark Ames, AIHA’s director of 
Government Relations, to discuss the outlook for OEHS issues moving forward. Ames expressed concern that opposition to government regulation would weaken protections for workers, but he also sounded a hopeful note. “I think the most important thing to take away is that this is a time of introspection and examination,” Ames said. “It’s a great opportunity for our members to get engaged with policy makers to help them understand the impact of OEHS programs.” The following is an edited transcript of
The Synergist
’s conversation with Ames.
: How do you expect Secretary Acosta to proceed on OEHS issues?
Mark Ames:
It’s a little unclear what his exact priorities are. He mentioned during the confirmation process that he does support the OSHA work force. At the same time he is required by the president to come up with a plan that identifies opportunities for “right-sizing” OSHA and the entire Department of Labor. So what impacts could that have on OSHA? What about enforcement? They already have very limited capabilities and their resources are stretched thin. The possible recommendations he might come out with aren’t clear because he’s issued ambiguous and at times contradictory statements. On the one hand he supports worker health and safety. On the other, he hasn’t been willing to commit to supporting full implementation of the silica rule. He says that he supports enforcement and values worker health and safety—it’s easy to say that, but it’s quite another to be an advocate for robust staffing levels at OSHA, to stand up for worker health and safety, and not be afraid to say to the president and those who think that resources should be diverted away from worker health and safety that protecting America’s workers is actually a really big national priority. All of this presents an opportunity for us to go in and have a conversation with the Secretary. We’re going to make every effort to go in and speak to him, and hopefully there will be a new head of OSHA in the near future. The most important thing is going to be that they put someone in place quickly, someone who is of the occupational and environmental health and safety community, who is trusted, isn’t seen as a partisan, really looks at the evidence and evaluates it on its merits. Even though it is a political position, it’s going to be important for the new head of OSHA to be someone who is going to be led by the evidence.

And I would mention that it can be difficult for OSHA to make important decisions without political leadership. For instance, we have asked to sit down with them to have conversations about their plans for regulatory reform, and they said that while they’re happy to meet with us, they really can’t have a substantive discussion or provide us with feedback on their plans because they don’t have the leadership in place right now. They need that political leadership to make some of the most important planning and strategic decisions for them. Now that we have a new secretary of Labor, he’s going to be finding his way, starting to make strategic decisions, and it’s another reason why we’re very eager to have these very important conversations with him and his staff. They are going to impact millions of American workers in every single industry.
“We’re in a period of disruption. We have an ability right now to make our case for why we support the programs that we do.”

: What are the prospects for OSHA’s silica rule?
The silica rule is being threatened. The Freedom Caucus in particular in the U.S. House of Representatives is opposed to the silica rule. The director of OMB [the White House Office of Management and Budget], Mick Mulvaney, is one of the founding members of the Caucus. Their opposition stems from the rule’s impact on the construction industry. This becomes especially troubling given that President Trump is of that industry. But the immediate threat is in Congress through a possible policy rider on a fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill that would prohibit funding for the implementation of the silica rule. Now, whether that would actually stop momentum on the silica rule in the field is a little more complex, because of the research that was published in the promulgation of the rule. Any attempts by the administration to weaken or roll back the rule would be challenged in court, which would look to the findings and evidence OSHA presented when it issued the final rule. To successfully pull back the silica rule, the Trump administration would have to show that the reasoning and evidence supporting the rule was flawed, and that’s going to be very difficult for them to do. If the appropriations bill passes with the expected policy rider, then OSHA would be prohibited from spending funds to implement the silica rule. But remember, the silica rule was issued based upon a body of evidence. That body of evidence doesn’t go away just because Congress says, “OSHA, you can’t spend money to implement this rule.”
: In March, AIHA briefed congressional staff members on the silica rule. What were the outcomes of that event?
There were several outcomes. One was to demonstrate to policy makers and to our members that this is an issue that we’re really paying attention to. We were active participants in the development of this rule, submitting comments and testimony. We also wanted to show Congress and our members that we recognize the threat that is being posed to the silica rule. AIHA, just like all groups, needs to constantly renew and establish new relationships with policy makers. There are a lot of policy makers, especially with the new Congress, and helping them understand the merits of the silica rule is a big goal for us. And it leads into other discussions. I would say that it’s both increased support in Congress for the silica rule as well as provided an opportunity for us to discuss other related issues on worker health and safety with members of Congress.
[Editor’s note: see AIHA's
news article
on the briefing for more information.]

For a primer on AIHA’s priorities for the federal government from AIHA’s CEO Larry Sloan and Government Relations Director Mark Ames, watch the short video, "
Why Appropriations Matter
." Sloan addresses AIHA’s support for OSHA’s silica rule in a
separate video
How to Get Involved in AIHA Government Relations
Are you ready to act for the OEHS issues you care about? The Federal Legislative Action Center on the AIHA website provides templates for letters to Members of Congress. Get started on
. For more information about how you can make a difference, contact AIHA’s Director of Government Relations, Mark Ames, at
or (703) 846-0730.
Sharp Cuts for OHS Agencies in President Trump’s FY 2018 Budget
On May 23, days before this issue went to press, President Trump released his administration’s budget requests for fiscal year 2018. The budget would eliminate the Chemical Safety Board, the NIOSH Education and Research Centers and Agricultural, Forestry and Fishing Program, and the OSHA Susan Harwood Training Grants. Overall, the president’s budget would reduce NIOSH funding by nearly 41 percent from FY 2017 levels. The president’s proposed 1.4 percent reduction of OSHA’s overall funding, while minor relative to other agencies, would cut $8 million from the agency’s budget.
In a
press release
issued May 24 in response to the president's budget, AIHA CEO Larry Sloan said, “You cannot make America great again without protecting the health and safety of America’s workers.”
: Some published reports indicate that OSHA’s beryllium rule will be weakened during the OMB review process. What have you heard about the rule?
It’s safe to assume that any attempts to weaken worker protections for anything, especially regarding beryllium, are going to be challenged in court, and where that comes out is anyone’s guess. But we’re eagerly anticipating seeing any new proposed rule that comes out and staying abreast of any possible changes or challenges there might be in Congress.
: Last year the Lautenberg Act, which reformed the Toxic Substances Control Act, put a lot of ambitious deadlines in place for EPA to meet. How is that process coming along?
It’s something that we are engaging with on a case-by-case basis. We have examined several of the proposals issued in the
Federal Register
, and we’re engaging with our partners in other coalitions to really make sure that we’re staying on top of this very important new law. And as far as meeting those deadlines, you’re right, there are ambitious deadlines. We have a lot of volunteer groups at AIHA, and we are relying on their expertise to provide the guidance the agencies are seeking.
: Congress is close to finalizing a budget for fiscal year 2017. How did OEHS programs fare?
In the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017, the current fiscal year, OSHA was level funded. The Chemical Safety Board was also level funded. But there’s only about five months left in the current fiscal year. And the president is going to issue his full budget request for fiscal year 2018 in May.
[Editor’s note: see the sidebar above for information about the President's proposal.]
That is where we’re going to get a lot more information on his specific proposals. It’s unclear what impact it’s going to have in Congress. The president’s budget is usually handily dismissed by policy makers, but it does frame the discussion. Republicans will generally want to cleave as close as they can to the president’s requests. Some OEHS programs do have a lot of support, such as NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers, and their Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing Program. Any attempts to significantly cut them will likely be opposed. The same is true of the Susan Harwood grants. A similar situation also exists for the Chemical Safety Board. The Chemical Safety Board was level funded in the FY 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, even though the president proposed eliminating it. The Board generally enjoys support by industry. Some groups don’t always completely agree with their recommendations but by and large there is a lot of acknowledged value in having the Chemical Safety Board as an independent entity of experts investigating disasters. Right now everyone is looking for opportunities to grow the economy, reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, and focus resources on areas that do the most good. I use the word “opportunity” a lot, and that’s because there are a lot of opportunities. We’re in a period of disruption. We have an ability right now to make our case for why we support the programs that we do. We have reasons why we support each and every program and the funding levels associated with them. We have the personal impact stories, and we have the numbers to back them up. It’s those stories that we have to tell to these policy makers who probably aren’t familiar with these programs. There are a lot of federal programs of course, and a lot of policy makers. You’ve got to sympathize with their plight. They’re trying to understand the thousands of programs that exist. They’re trying to understand where each taxpayer dollar should go to have the greatest effect, and you can imagine that it’s a very difficult thing for them to do. That’s why they really do rely upon the experts like AIHA’s members to help them understand what’s working and what needs to be improved. Our goal is not necessarily to tell policy makers what to do. We have to be careful not to gauge our success based on any particular decision by a policy maker because we can’t force them to make decisions. Instead, the best that we can do is to provide them with the best information so that when they are faced with a decision, when they’re weighing the pros and cons of a choice, they feel that they fully understand an issue. And if we can educate a policy maker on the issues that we care about the most, then we’ve done our job. And that’s where the opportunity lies. We have a lot of new policy makers in place and a lot are returning as well, so it’s a great time to go in and have a meeting, send a message, pick up the phone and make a call, because honestly, it really does matter. No matter which group you’re in, how big or small, whether you get involved in politics or not, individual people can and do have an impact every single day. That’s the power of our democracy. It’s the reason why it’s revered around the world, and it’s the reason why we have a Government Relations operation here and why we believe it’s so important to our members. We know they are impacted every day by the actions of government on every level, and that they will be impacted by the decisions of members of Congress and the president in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations cycle and beyond.
is AIHA’s director of Government Relations. He can be reached at (703) 846-0730 or
is editor-in-chief of
The Synergist
. He can be reached at (703) 846-0734 or