The New Year is a time of renewal and looking ahead to what could be.  There is no shortage of predictions about what will happen in the world of workplace safety in 2016.  The big factor – President Obama’s last term in office.  The end of a Presidential administration and the election of a new one always makes for an interesting year in terms of government.  The impact on OSHA is no exception.

We already know OSHA fines will be increasing in 2016.  The roughly 80% increase, one-time adjustment for 2016, to “catch-up” with current inflation rates, will bring maximum fines for the most severe citations to $125,000 from $70,000 and for other serious violations from $7,000 to $12,500. For details, check out our blog post on the subject.2016-new-year-ss-1920

According to the Appropriations Bill released on December 15, 2015, OSHA will have a FY 2016 budget of $552,787,000; a very similar budget to 2014 and 2015.  Although OSHA wasn’t granted the 7% budget increase for FY 2016 as requested, we will more than likely see increased enforcement initiatives and new rules on the table in Obama’s final term.

The Crystalline Silica rule is a top priority for the current administration, and there is little doubt from multiple sources that a final rule will be passed before Obama leaves office.  In addition to passing the Crystalline Silica rule, OSHA states their rulemaking priorities include confined spaces in construction, walking and working surfaces, beryllium, continued updates to recordkeeping, and infectious diseases.  Another long term goal – updates to outdated chemical PELs.  Some PELs date back to the 1960s, before the OSH Act was written.  It’s more than likely not on the agenda for 2016, but OSHA hopes to update the Process Safety Management rule and other chemical standards.  Although we may not see a final rule on all of these topics there is potential for proposed rules or guidance documents to be published.

Two standards that seem to be riding off into the sunset are a Federal Injury Illness and Prevention program (more commonly referred to as I2P2) and Combustible Dust.  According to an article in Safety + Health magazine, experts agree that neither of these standards will be passed in the coming year.  Once a hot item for the Obama Administration, I2P2 would be a major rule that would affect all employers.  OSHA only has the resources to pass one to two major rules at a time, and feels they will have greater success with silica.   There are a number of stakeholders that continue to push for a Combustible Dust rule.  We are more likely to see a proposed rule before next January, with the future of the rule depending on Obama’s successor.

Outgoing presidents often unleash a flurry of executive orders and regulations in a last-minute attempt to leave their mark on the country.  U.S. federal law mandates a 60-day waiting period before any major regulatory changes become law, thus, some Presidents try to publish new major regulations on November 21, 60 days before the new President’s inauguration on January 20.  These are referred to as midnight regulations.  The Obama administration will more than likely try to push as many new rules as possible in early 2016 so they aren’t accused of issuing midnight regulations.  As far as surprises go, there probably won’t be any. The Obama administration has been pretty straightforward in regards to OSHA and most agree this should continue through the end of his presidency.


Safety + Heath Magazine, OSHA under Obama: The final year, Morrison, October 25, 2015