On April 9, 2021, President Biden announced that he intends to nominate Douglas L. Parker to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Mr. Parker is currently the chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as Cal/OSHA, a position he has held since September 2019. Mr. Parker previously served in the Department of Labor under the administration of President Obama as deputy assistant secretary for policy with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and he was a member of the Biden-Harris transition team. Before leading Cal/OSHA, Mr. Parker served as executive director of WorkSafe, a legal services provider based out of Oakland, CA, and as an attorney for the United Mine Workers of America.
Most recently, as chief of Cal/OSHA, Mr. Parker has overseen the agency’s response to COVID-19, including enhanced enforcement activities and the development and implementation of an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that imposes numerous requirements on California employers, including employer-funded testing requirements in certain scenarios, to mitigate the hazard of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. Mr. Parker’s confirmation would likely bring the California framework to the national stage.
Under Mr. Parker’s leadership dealing with the pandemic, Cal/OSHA has focused on coordinated enforcement with other state agencies, such as the California Department of Public Health. Cal/OSHA has also conducted weekend enforcement sweeps of essential businesses to ensure compliance with the ETS. To date, Cal/OSHA’s enforcement of workplace safety during the pandemic has been one of the most, if not the most, aggressive in the nation. Cal/OSHA has issued citations against agriculture, food processing, textiles, correctional facilities, grocery markets, skilled nursing, and acute care facilities, with penalties exceeding $100,000.00 per inspection in some cases.
If confirmed, Mr. Parker would be the first Senate-confirmed federal OSHA chief since January 2017. He would also extend a strange streak for the Agency – it has not been led by a safety professional since John Henshaw led the Agency during the first term of the George W. Bush administration. It has been approximately two decades since the nation’s premier workplace safety agency has been managed by a safety professional.
We expect any confirmation debate to focus on Mr. Parker’s experience addressing COVID-19 in California workplaces and ongoing administrative challenges facing the agency. If he is confirmed, employers should expect an aggressive OSHA both with respect to regulatory and enforcement initiatives.