A Meeting with the Secretary of Labor

On July 20, the day we met new Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta, we weren’t sure what to expect. In addition to the two of us, our group included AIHA’s CEO Lawrence Sloan, CAE, and Managing Director of Scientific and Technical Initiatives, Russ D. Hayward, CIH. There were so many things we wanted to talk about—so many things that deserved attention. Yet we knew our time with the Secretary was limited, and we could cover only so much.
So, we set a plan: we would introduce AIHA to Secretary Acosta; help him understand the role that IHs play in protecting worker health and safety, and its broad, deep impacts throughout society; present the business case for OEHS; talk about the pressing need to encourage students to enter the IH profession; and try to find out the Secretary’s vision for OSHA, including regulatory reform and the updating of PELs and related OSHA health standards. Finally, we wanted to talk about partnering with OSHA to develop effective workplace health and safety messaging.
Our agenda was ambitious, but we were committed to making the most of our time together. COMMON GROUND The Secretary immediately impressed us with his depth of knowledge and welcoming manner. It was clear he had done his homework and knew who we represented. Perhaps not surprisingly given the other issues circulating at the time, he seemed to initially view us from a health perspective, and understood how we impact worker health and safety. We chose to lead strongly with the business case for OEHS, and were ready to present supporting data, but found that on this matter all of us were already on common ground, sharing the same core concerns and goals.
Discussing his vision for OSHA, the Secretary explained that there was little new information he could share, as much work remained, and there were some matters he was unable to openly address. (As of early October the new head of OSHA had not yet been announced, but plans for regulatory reform are underway.) We voiced our support for OSHA’s silica dust rule, and while he was unable to say if any attempt would be made to alter or halt its implementation, he also did not express opposition.
We all agreed on the need for consistent, clear, and comprehensible messaging on workplace health and safety.
DEBORAH IMEL NELSON, PhD, CIH, is president of AIHA. She can be reached at (720) 587-7500 or via email.

MARK AMES, MA, is AIHA’s director of Government Relations. He can be reached at (703) 846-0730 or via email.
We found additional areas of common ground. All agreed that updating the PELs is a Gordian knot. We agreed that PELs may become a proxy for many other issues, making updating them even more difficult. Secretary Acosta expressed strong support for OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs, which AIHA also supports. And finally, we all agreed on the need for consistent, clear, and comprehensible messaging on workplace health and safety. With so many groups making competing, sometimes conflicting claims, a steady, professional voice is needed to help everyone understand what the real problems are and how to fix them. AIHA is that source of professional, technical expertise. THE POWER OF VOLUNTEERISM The meeting concluded as warmly as it began, with the added encouragement of the Secretary to make our expertise heard—a message we carry on to you. AIHA’s members are the source of its technical and government relations strength; the power of volunteerism cannot be overstated. If you’re interested in getting involved in government relations, please send an email to Mark Ames and he’ll help you get started.