A recent article in The New York Times, "Under Trump, Worker Protections Are Viewed With New Skepticism," suggests that the Trump administration is pursuing a "significant relaxation in the government's approach to occupational safety." But executives in the chemical, manufacturing, construction, and other industries—as well as their health and safety managers, legal team and other advisors—should not assume that the Trump administration is offering a free ride on regulatory issues.
The tone of the article suggests that Trump will reverse or eliminate a variety of Obama-era industry standards, including reduced workplace exposure to beryllium, an industrial mineral linked to lung disease; and to silica, a mineral that has been linked to lung disease and to cancer.
The article also highlighted Trump's plan to delay a rule requiring electronic reporting and public posting of workplace injuries. Finally, experts quoted in it say proposed budget cuts could cloud the future of the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates chemical plant accidents, and an OSHA grant program that provides training to workers in industries with high injuries and fatalities.
Beryllium Exposure The Obama administration's new beryllium standard reduced allowable eight-hour exposures from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air to only 0.2 micrograms. Many experts agreed that a reduction was in order, but slashing it by a factor of 10—and expanding coverage to include the maritime and construction industries—could cripple businesses.
Some sources indicate that although President Trump may try to scale it back and exempt the maritime and construction industries, he can't just wipe out Obama's rule. With the rule already established as a "final standard," OSHA would have to first publish any new proposals in the Federal Register and cite a basis for any changes. Further, labor groups and others would likely mount legal challenges.
Silica Standard There has been concern that exposure to silica in the construction industry leads to lung cancer and kidney and other diseases, but some industry advocates have argued that a significant drop in lung disease rates over the last 40 years suggests that stricter silica standards are not necessary. Still, Obama ordered a reduction from 250 micrograms per cubic meter of air for an eight-hour period to only 50 micrograms.
Compliance within the construction industry was originally scheduled to begin June 23, 2017, but OSHA recently announced that enforcement will instead start Sept. 23. The agency justified this delay by noting that "additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard."
The NY Times article suggests that this delay represents diluted enforcement, but OSHA has said that employers in the construction industry are still expected to continue to take steps to either come into compliance with the new permissible exposure limit, or to implement specific dust controls for certain operations. Consequently, it may be premature to assert that Trump will significantly weaken or eliminate the silica standard.