In a continued report from last week’s ABA Occupational Safety and Health Law Meeting in Naples, Florida. On Wednesday the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, addressed OSHA’s policy issues and enforcement.

Dr. Michaels reiterated OSHA’s goal to issue a silica standard, which he hopes will be finalized before President Obama leaves office. Dr. Michaels also confirmed OSHA’s belief that criminal enforcement and the severe violators enforcement program (SVEP) are important components of the Agency’s compliance strategy, stating that OSHA continues to work with Federal and State law enforcement in criminal prosecutions.

Dr. Michaels also addressed OSHA’s view that permissible exposure limits (PEL’s) are out-of-date and do not reflect the scientific evidence. Nevertheless, he said it was obvious that OSHA could not address this deficiency by enacting more current and appropriate standards. He made clear that despite his certainty that the PEL’s were inadequate, OSHA will not address them through notice and comment rulemaking where interested stakeholders can provide their views. Rather, OSHA would continue to press employers to adhere to lower PEL levels, mentioning use of the General Duty Clause as a potential avenue for enforcing the lower PEL’s. Consequently, employers should expect OSHA to try to enforce lower limits for specific chemicals that are different from OSHA’s published PEL’s.

Other topics discussed by OSHA included temporary employees, joint employer enforcement, new reporting requirements, process safety management, and workplace violence. Regarding the issue of temporary employees and joint employer enforcement, OSHA reiterated its focus of finding joint employer relationships in situations involving temporary staffing agencies who assign workers to a host employer. Regarding the new reporting requirements, Dr. Michaels stated that the requirements have already permitted OSHA access to employers it never knew of and were previously outside of its radar.