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2019 Outlook: Job Violence, Heat Stress Are Hot Safety Issues

Dec. 26, 2018, 11:12 AM

Congress, federal regulators, or both are likely in 2019 to take steps to protect workers from violence, prevent heat stress, and revise injury reporting, officials told Bloomberg Law.

The most significant rule the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to complete in 2019 is changing which injury and illness records employers must provide the agency (RIN:1218-AD17). The final rule, projected by OSHA for a June release, would overturn several requirements approved in the final year of the Obama administration.

If the changes stick to what OSHA has proposed, small companies in hazardous industries and all large employers would only be required to submit an annual summary of the total number of injuries and illnesses and the percentage of workers injured or made sick. Employers wouldn’t have to provide information on individual cases as the rule now mandates.

Other developments on the horizon include likely oversight hearings in the House, Review Commission rulings on workplace violence and heat stress, and new research demands for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on opioid use and firefigther health.

Oversight and Legislation

Workplace safety oversight hearings and some legislative efforts are expected with Democrats taking control of the House in January, labor advocates and lawmakers say. Safety-related legislation from a Democrat-controlled House, however, could likely stall in the Republican-controlled Senate or face a presidential veto.

There are a host of legislative issues for the House to consider, Peg Seminario, safety and health director for the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg Law. “Workplace violence is obviously a big one.”

A spokesman for Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) told Bloomberg Law the congressman will again introduce a bill requiring OSHA to move forward with regulations protecting health-care workers from violence.

OSHA also is considering a workplace violence rule, scheduling discussions with small businesses for March (RIN:1218-AD08).

Another OSHA bill expected to be introduced by Democrats would call for the agency to develop regulations to protect workers from high heat hazards. Rep. Judy Chu (D.-Calif.) intends to offer a bill in 2019, a spokesman told Bloomberg Law.

Congressional reviews of safety agencies also will be critical, Deborah Berkowitz, worker health and safety program director for the National Employment Law Project and OSHA chief of staff during the Obama administration, told Bloomberg Law.

Oversight issues include the Labor Department’s proposal to ease child labor protections in industries such as health care, a reduction in enforcement activities, efforts to roll back OSHA regulations, and the effectiveness of many state worker safety programs.

OSHA’s effort to remove some provisions of the rules protecting workers from breathing toxic beryllium particles, which can lead to lung disease (RIN:1218-AD20; RIN:1218-AD21), is one area of concern, a House labor committee Democratic staff member told Bloomberg Law. Another is the reversal of the 2017 law prohibiting OSHA from citing employers for injury and illness record-keeping violations that first occurred more than six months before an inspection.

Review Commission

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission also will have a say on workplace violence and heat stress issues.

OSHRC, the judicial panel that hears challenges of OSHA citations, could rule this year on whether the agency can hold social services firm Integra Health Management Inc. responsible for the death of an employee who was stabbed while visiting a client. The company is based in Owings Mills, Md. A hearing in the case, Sec’y of Labor v. Integra Health Mgmt., OSHRC, No. 13-1124, was held in June.

The decision could determine how far the agency can go in citing employers for not trying to prevent workplace attacks.

Because OSHA doesn’t have specific regulations covering violent acts, it depends on the “general duty clause,” which requires employers to protect workers against known hazards that can be mitigated.

OSHA’s use of the general duty clause to cite employers for exposing workers to extreme heat conditions is also before the review commission in the case Sec’y of Labor v. A.H. Sturgill Roofing Inc., OSHRC, No. 13-0224. In that case, the Dayton, Ohio roofing contractor is contesting OSHA’s citation that it failed to adequately protect a temporary worker, who later died from heat stress.

NIOSH Research

Legislative changes bring added roles for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the federal research agency that studies worker health and safety, after several years of shrugging off proposed budget cuts and reorganizations.

A top priority for NIOSH—part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention— is aiding workers and employers affected by opioid abuse, the agency’s director, John Howard, told Bloomberg Law. With Trump’s signing of legislation, H.R. 6 or the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, more Americans should have access to medication-assisted treatment. That should help more people stay in the workforce, but they will need help to remain there, Howard said.

“We sort of consider ourselves to be information central on workforce issues,” Howard said.

Researchers will also start collecting data from firefighters under H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act. The idea is to help scientists better understand the cancer threats facing firefighters and devise strategies to prevent them.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at; Sam Pearson in Washington at; Fatima Hussein in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at; Cathleen O'Connor Schoultz at