Earlier this week the Whitehouse announced the nomination of Scott A. Mugno to lead OSHA.
Given the Trump administrations loudly touted “regulation roll-back” agenda, those of us in the EHS realm have been anxiously awaiting news and information to signal how the administration might act on that promise in regards to the Occupational and Health Administration (OSHA). 9 months into the administration, we may finally have some answers.
Whereas Trump moved aggressively to attack environmental regulations with his appointment of Scott Pruitt to run the EPA, it appears that he may be taking a more moderate approach towards health and safety regulations with Mugno’s nomination. Read on to learn why….
Who Is Scott A. Mugno?
According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Mugno has held the position of Vice President of Safety, Sustainability and Vehicle Maintenance at FedEx since December of 2011. Previously, he worked for FedEx as Managing Director of Corporate Safety, Health and Fire Protection from February 2000 until being promoted to his current VP position. According to the FedEx website, Mugno was “focused on creating a safe work environment for 95,000 team members and the public,” and according to the Whitehouse, Mr. Mugno was awarded FedEx’s prestigious “FedEx 5 Star Award” for his safety leadership at the company.
Prior to working as a health and safety professional, Mr. Mugno was a lawyer both in private industry as well as for the Army for many years.
He graduated from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, KS and attended undergraduate studies at St. Johns University in New York.
It appears that he’s a Republican, but I’ve not been able to confirm this.
How Might He Run OSHA?
This is the million $ question, so I’ve done a little research looking for clues but unfortunately there’s not much information. This is much different than Scott Pruitt, who was tapped by Trump to run the EPA. His anti-regulation and anti-EPA record and opinions were extensive and gave a very clear picture of how he might run the EPA, and his actions since taking office have only confirmed this. This was primarily due to Pruitt’s prior governmental experience working as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. Mr. Mugno, on the other hand, has never held government office, so there’s not much record and so we can only rely on his work experience and a couple of interesting tidbits I found to guess on how he might run the agency.
Mr. Mugno’s 17+ years of health and safety experience at FedEx should have provided a good balance of OSHA/health and safety related technical knowledge, combined with real life experience implementing and managing those regulations within a major corporation with significant related requirements and risks. In other words, this combined experience should give him good perspective on how OSHA regulations impact business. One can assume that this would greatly impact his governing approach.
Another interesting consideration is how his legal background might impact those experiences and his approach to managing OSHA. During a Chamber of Commerce function in 2016, he made comments that might offer clues. Mr. Mugno discussed the possibility of “sunsetting” certain OSHA regulations. He apparently stated, “We’ve got to free OSHA from it’s own statutory and regulatory handcuffs.” He then added that a lot has changed since 1971 when OSHA was created and therefore some outdated laws and regulations should be ”sunsetted.” “Sunsetting” refers to a process of ending or re-issuing laws after a certain period of time. Currently no OSHA regulations are subject to sunsetting without significant process and review. His stated position is a bit vague, but one could certainly argue, or worry, that it sounds like he’s in favor of at least some degree of “regulation rollback.”
Then there’s this apparently conflicting nugget:
In a blog post written by Mr. Mugno while working for Fedex, he credited the company’s founder Frederick W. Smith for his leadership and “safety first” approach to business by saying:
“(Smith’s) insistence on ‘Safety Above All’ and his ‘no package we could ever carry is worth jeopardizing the safety of one employee’ approach made FedEx a safety influencer in the industry.”
Reading this quote, it’s hard to arrive at any other conclusion than that Mugno is strongly committed to workplace safety.
So there you have it, clear as mud….
Despite this lack of clarity, and apparently contradictory information, it’s worthwhile summarizing the major ways that Mugno could influence OSHA policy once/if he takes office:
- Emphasis on Enforcement vs. Outreach/Compliance Assistance:
- Will Mugno direct funding and resources towards increased enforcement inspections and fines for US companies, or more towards helping employers achieve and maintain compliance? Every administration includes a mix of both, but they always lean more heavily in one direction than the other. For example, The Obama Administration clearly focused more on enforcement by appointing Dr. David Michaels who famously stated that the best way to improve workplace safety was to shame employers into compliance, which included an aggressive combination of increased inspections and fines (OSHA increased fines by 78% in 2016), combined with publishing damning and embarrassing press releases about companies who received citations. It’s important to note that since Trump took office, these press releases have already been greatly reduced. Given the Obama administrations’ “enforcement heavy approach,” it’s not hard to imagine a swing towards the other direction (outreach) by Mugno.
- Expansion of OSHA Standards: In recent years OSHA has expanded existing standards such as for silica exposure for Construction and Fall Protection in General Industry, and indicated potential creation of new of standards to address hazards such as workplace violence & heat exposure that are currently managed under OSHA’s catch-all, The General Duty Clause.
- Creation of new health and safety standards is a very difficult and time consuming process, and therefore a major challenge for even the most workplace safety committed administration. Given these challenges and Trump’s anti-regulation stance, it’s hard to imagine that Mugno will act to promote expansion of OSHA standards.
- Roll back of existing OSHA standards and rules:
- As stated above, Mugno is already on record advocating for “sunsetting” of what he believes are obsolete OSHA standards. If he’s serious about this, how aggressively might he move to act? If so, which standards or rules might he attack? Although it’s true that many OSHA standards and laws date back to 1971 and are therefore antiquated, that doesn’t mean that they’re not still useful and applicable (who can argue with the basic controls included in OSHA’s Fall Protection and Hazard Communication Standards, for example?) If Mugno moved to remove or weaken long practiced health and safety standards that function to provide simple, baseline health and safety protection for American workers, it’s not hard to imagine serious pushback and even political damage for the administration. Never forget that a big majority of Trump’s base is made up of blue collar workers who could very easily suffer under an administration that doesn’t advocate for workplace safety.
- OSHA has recently implemented new rules including the controversial electronic submission of injury and illness records for many “high hazard” industries. So far this and other new rules haven’t been seriously impacted, but will Mugno change that?
- Targeted enforcement towards high hazard industries and hazards: OSHA currently has several ongoing National Emphasis Programs targeting, for example, steel fabricators and other industries with significant amputation hazards and high noise levels. When NEP inspections occur, they’re typically “comprehensive” (including scrutiny of all workplace safety components including physical hazards, employee safety training, routine inspections, record keeping, etc.) and thus result in much higher fines and penalties for non-compliant companies. Will the National Emphasis Program continue under Mugno’s OSHA?
- Increase OSHA’s budget: OSHA’s budget hasn’t been increased since 2010 which occurred during the Obama Administration. Will Mugno advocate for an expanded OSHA by increasing their budget? Again, given the Trump administration’s position on regulation, it’s very hard to imagine this happening.
In my opinion, it was relatively easy for Trump to argue that environmental de-regulation would greatly benefit industry, and thus his largely blue collar base of support. In other words, by unburdening industry from all of the costly environmental rules and regulations, manufacturers, energy companies and others could then create more jobs and opportunity for the benefit of his blue collar base (Whether this theory has, or will, actually materialize is highly debatable, but that’s another story…). This is obviously why he appointed Scott Pruitt to run the EPA, who has already acted aggressively on the anti-regulation agenda. His base has been largely supportive of this position and actions taken by Pruitt since taking office, but this won’t necessarily be the case if Trump moves to de-regulate OSHA…
Politically, it may not be nearly as easy, or wise, to advocate for health and safety regulation rollbacks which could very easily end up harming that same blue collar base who often work in manufacturing, energy, construction and other high hazard industries. The same high hazard industries that OSHA was created to regulate in order to protect workers while working at them. According to the OSHA website, “Since the agency was established in 1971, workplace fatalities have been cut by 62 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined 40 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has nearly doubled from 56 million workers at 3.5 million worksites to 115 million workers at nearly 7 million sites.” These statistics provide strong evidence that OSHA has been largely successful in their mission to reduce workplace fatalities and injuries since 1071, but even so, statistics still show that on average 4600 workers will die on the job each year in the US, which translates into 90 deaths per week or 13 deaths every single day. No doubt, and tragically, these statistics significantly include and impact Trump’s blue collar base. Does Trump and Mugno really want to risk making these tragic numbers rise by de-regulating OSHA? Probably not and this could very well explain Trump’s decision to nominate Mugno, who appears to be much more moderate as compared to Pruitt. Trump knows he must advocate on behalf of his blue collar base in order to maintain their support, and there’s no better way to do that than by helping insure that they have a healthy and safe place to work.