Will the Sago mine tragedy affect attitudes toward workplace safety?
Edwin Foulke Jr., the new chief of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has said that he plans to make the agency a better friend to entrepreneurs by expanding voluntary protection programs and other forms of assistance for small employers, and by simplifying the main compliance manual.
A lawyer from South Carolina who defended employers in workplace health and safety litigation, Foulke served from 1990 to 1994 as chairman of the commission that hears companies' appeals on OSHA-related penalties. "He was a fair and decent guy who always listened to the arguments of the different groups," says Peg Seminario, director of the AFL-CIO's safety and health department, who argued cases in front of him.
Three challenges that the new OSHA chief must deal with:
Calls to get tough The Bush administration "has not made workplace safety a priority," complains the AFL-CIO's Seminario. Though OSHA is not responsible for the mining industry, the Sago tragedy has emboldened workplace safety advocates to call for tough, new measures--something business groups have resisted.
Calls to relax Senator Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, is pushing a bill that would allow companies more leeway in creating safety programs and would exempt them from civil penalties for two years after a third party certifies their policies. Opponents fear that self-reporting could lead to abuses.
Immigration worries A feud erupted between OSHA and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the bureau's agents, pretending to conduct safety classes, rounded up undocumented workers. OSHA condemns the tactic on the grounds that it could cause employers to cancel safety classes.
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.