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At the recent AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis declared that the Department of Labor (DOL) is “back in the enforcement business.”  The DOL chief vowed to increase the DOL’s workplace enforcement of the nation’s labor laws because vigorous enforcement “is not only our responsibility, it’s our moral obligation.”

Secretary Solis announced that the DOL planned to hire an additional 670 investigators, inspectors, and program staff to support the increased enforcement.  Since July 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is an arm of the DOL, has conducted 689 inspections resulting in 1,100 violations and $1.6 million in fines.  Although pleased with recent enforcement efforts, Secretary Solis commented that there is “much more work to do to protect workers.” 

Secretary Solis’ recent comments are only the latest indication that the DOL intends to increase enforcement of the nation’s workplace protection laws.  During the 2008 presidential campaign, Candidate Obama accused the DOL of following a mandate to “err on the side of corporations.”  He stated that “OSHA must be reinvigorated” by increased Congressional funding “to assure that there are more inspectors to reach more of the most dangerous workplaces.”

Once in office, President Obama nominated David Michaels, a research professor at George Washington University and former Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health, in July to head OSHA.  Michaels has consistently advocated for increased funding to support OSHA’s aggressive enforcement efforts.  Michaels’ confirmation has stalled in the Senate.

If confirmed, a Michaels-led OSHA is expected to concentrate on three main areas.  First, OSHA will likely focus on prevention of workplace injury and illness.  This goal will be pursued through stricter occupational safety and health standards supported by an augmented OSHA inspection staff.

Second, OSHA is expected to address recordkeeping accuracy and efficiency.  Advocates of enhanced enforcement believe that employers have seriously under-reported injuries in the workplace.  OSHA may investigate employer recordkeeping practices and possibly mandate increased recordkeeping requirements, such as electronic recordkeeping.  

Third, OSHA will likely seek more severe penalties for OSHA violations.  It is believed that OSHA will promulgate regulations and seek legislative enactments to increase employee protections and employer penalties. 

With or without Michaels, the DOL is expected to continue pushing for an enhanced enforcement agenda for OSHA.  Although no concrete plan or timeline has been established, changes at OSHA will almost assuredly take place under the Obama Administration.