May 26, 2022

OSHA's Frederick Updates OEHS Professionals on Agency Priorities

By Ed Rutkowski

May 26, 2022—OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary James Frederick addressed attendees at the closing session of AIHce EXP 2022 in Nashville yesterday, summarizing the agency’s priorities and providing updates on several rulemakings. A former director of health, safety, and environment for the United Steelworkers, Frederick began his address by reflecting on the sobering reality that, on average, a worker dies on the job every day in the United States. He said this reality was particularly difficult to acknowledge given the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 that killed 19 children and two adults. That tragedy “is surely at the forefront of our thoughts,” Frederick said.

OSHA’s mission is for health and safety to be established as core values in every workplace in the country, Frederick said. To accomplish this, employers need to implement strong OHS management systems and engage with workers. Frederick credited his work with the United Steelworkers for teaching him that workers understand the hazards they face on the job and can explain how to rectify them. “It’s so important that we listen to that,” he said.

Addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Frederick asked attendees to review OSHA’s “Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” which the agency continues to update. Despite the Supreme Court’s action vacating OSHA’s Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard, the agency continues to investigate complaints from workers related to COVID-19 and is using the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act for enforcement purposes. Frederick said that a forthcoming rule on infectious diseases will provide “ample opportunity for stakeholder engagement and involvement” on matters related to COVID-19.

In recent months, OSHA has been particularly active in relation to heat hazards at work. In addition to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on heat injury prevention, the agency has also launched a National Emphasis Program to protect workers from outdoor and indoor heat hazards and recently held a stakeholder meeting to review the agency’s activities in this area.

Frederick also mentioned the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide $500 million for construction projects around the country. The influx of workers on these projects will be enormous, Frederick said, and will require health and safety protections from the outset. “It’s vital that occupational health professionals are engaged and involved to make certain that hazards are addressed and mitigated” as new workers enter these jobs, he explained.

Alluding to a significant reduction in OSHA staff over the last decade, Frederick appealed to the audience to help fill open positions at the agency. “One of the things we deal with as an employer is the fact that we have a fairly significant amount of attrition,” Frederick said.

Frederick ended his prepared remarks by providing perspective on OSHA enforcement efforts. He acknowledged that most employers try to protect their workers but need help from OSHA, particularly through the agency’s compliance assistance program and other training initiatives. “We really want to make sure employers are going well above OSHA regulations,” Frederick said.

At the end of the session, Frederick was joined on stage by AIHA President-Elect Donna Heidel, who relayed questions to Frederick suggested by AIHA members prior to the conference.

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist.

View more Synergist coverage of the conference on the highlights page on AIHA’s website.