The Future Is Now
Speakers Address Emerging Issues at AIHce EXP 2018
By Kay Bechtold and Ed Rutkowski
The outlook for the American economy, the precarious state of temporary workers, the opioid crisis: these were just a few of the weighty topics explored at AIHce EXP 2018 in Philadelphia, where thousands of occupational and environmental health and safety professionals gathered in May for the largest conference dedicated to the protection of worker health. From Rich Karlgaard’s opening keynote to Colonel Kirk Phillips’ closing address, the speakers at AIHce focused on potentially critical developments for the OEHS professions. A FORECAST FOR SUSTAINED GROWTH The stagnating effects of the Great Recession are wearing off and recent strong growth is likely to continue, according to Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard, whose keynote address opened AIHce EXP 2018 on May 21. The U.S. economy grew 2.9 percent over the previous four quarters, Karlgaard said, a significantly higher rate than at any point since the Great Recession. Karlgaard asserted that such a level of growth is sustainable based on the American economy’s historical performance and recent surveys that demonstrate an increase in CEO “confidence.” “CEOs are of a mind to invest, and higher growth is dependent on higher investment,” Karlgaard said. Despite these hopeful signs, many economic commentators have been skeptical about the economy’s long-term prospects, Karlgaard said. He attributed these doubts to the lingering trauma inflicted by the Great Recession, the worst downturn the U.S. has experienced since the 1930s. “We see three percent growth and we become kind of afraid: when is the other shoe going to drop?” Karlgaard said.  Karlgaard argued that investors are less constrained by such fears because of the Trump administration’s focus on cutting regulations that inhibit growth. Data-related technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, driverless vehicles, and augmented reality are becoming the new engine of economic growth, he said.  Karlgaard also asserted that technology is more effective than regulation at constraining bad actors in the marketplace. With nearly half of the global population now carrying smartphones, Karlgaard said, “if you talk about safety and don’t practice it, you get outed pretty quickly in this new world.” CONCERNS ABOUT OSHA, NIOSH Later on May 21, Jordan Barab, who was the deputy assistant secretary of OSHA during the Obama administration, and Peg Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for AFL-CIO, shared their perspectives on how OSHA and NIOSH are faring under the Trump administration. Barab explained the impact on OSHA of two of the president’s executive orders—13771, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs,” which is more commonly known as the “one in, one out” executive order, and 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” which is intended to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.” “The bad news about OSHA regulations is that they take a long time to be issued,” he said, citing a 2012 Government Accountability Office report that found that, on average, OSHA takes seven years to issue a final rule. “But the good news is that it takes just as long to repeal [these worker protections].” Barab also expressed disappointment that the Department of Labor’s spring 2018 regulatory agenda did not include items such as combustible dust, back-over injuries, noise in construction, welding, injury and illness prevention programs, styrene, 1-bromopropane, and chemical management and permissible exposure limits.  Seminario told attendees that she expects big changes in OSHA policy once the agency has a new assistant secretary. Scott Mugno, currently a vice president at FedEx Ground in Pittsburgh, Pa., was nominated for the position approximately seven months ago.