On October 25, 2021, the U.S. Senate voted 50-41 to confirm Douglas Parker to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He takes on a role that has been vacant since January 2017.
Parker previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration and was a member of the Biden-Harris transition team. Notably, he is the immediate-past chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).
According to Karen Tynan, a shareholder in Ogletree Deakins’ Sacramento office who leads the firm’s West Coast workplace safety and health practice, Parker’s previous tenure at Cal/OSHA will inform future trends for OSHA. “Take a look back over the last few years in California, and you have a pretty good idea of where Fed/OSHA is headed,” Tynan said.
Kevin Bland, a shareholder in Ogletree Deakins’ Orange County, California, office and a member of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group, also anticipates this trend. “I have worked with Doug Parker for many years, and I expect his focus at Fed/OSHA will continue to be on health policies similar to that of what we have seen under his direction at Cal/OSHA,” said Bland. “I expect we will see Fed/OSHA begin to align more closely with Cal/OSHA’s approach to enforcement and policies under Mr. Parker’s direction.”
Eugene McMenamin, who began his legal career as staff counsel at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and is currently a member of Ogletree Deakins’ Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group in the firm’s Orange County, California, office, observes that Parker’s confirmation “fills a position that was vacant for several years.” According to McMenamin, that new position “will have a tremendous impact on the increase in enforcement and litigation especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and constant adoption and readoption of emergency temporary regulations and laws.”
Bland, who has been an active participant in the rulemaking process during Cal/OSHA’s adoption of California’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standards, notes, “Mr. Parker was thrown into a very tenuous situation with the pandemic and worked hard to address the issues by discussing concerns from both labor and management.”
According to Tynan, “employers can expect an increase in OSHA inspections, and not just related to COVID-19.” “We expect a focus on heat illness,” Tynan said. “During Doug Parker’s tenure, California inspectors carried out ‘sweeps’ during heat waves and across large geographic regions. We anticipate similar directives.”