Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt joined the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) in 2017. Previously, she was a senior policy advisor at the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she handled workplace safety issues. Sweatt holds a bachelor’s in political science from Texas Christian University and an MBA from Marymount University. ARTBA conducted this interview with her via email. It appears in the May/June issue of Transportation Builder magazine.

ARTBA: Historically and up to the present day, ARTBA’s membership has included thousands of smaller and familyowned transportation construction firms. How can ARTBA work with OSHA to ease compliance – and associated costs – so these small businesses can protect their workers while staying financially viable?

SWEATT: It is far more cost-effective to be in compliance with OSHA and all federal regulations than for a company to experience a preventable injury or fatality. One resource to assist small, family-owned businesses is OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program. The program provides no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small- and medium-sized businesses to identify workplace hazards, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. A recent economic analysis of this program shows a $1.3 billion savings to employers and workers in injury avoidance and lower workers’ compensation insurance.

Additionally, Compliance Assistance Specialists in OSHA’s regional and area offices around the country are available to a variety of groups free of charge. These groups include small businesses and other employers, trade and professional associations, union locals, and community and faith-based groups. Compliance Assistance Specialists can provide general information about OSHA’s compliance assistance resources, and how to comply with OSHA standards. They are available for seminars, workshops, and speaking events.

ARTBA: How can OSHA work with the transportation construction industry – and particularly its small businesses – to adopt a balanced approach to compliance with the new
silica rule?

SWEATT: For construction, the silica rule has an innovative regulatory approach. By applying appropriate technology controls, construction workers can be protected, while the employer does not have to engage in the more costly aspects of compliance. Even simple housekeeping measures can reduce exposure, while ensuring that employers do not need to implement a comprehensive respirator program. Frequently asked questions and fact sheets are available on the OSHA website to provide compliance assistance. The vast majority of employers strive to keep their workplaces safe and comply with applicable laws. OSHA is working to provide compliance assistance, to give employers and employees the knowledge and tools they need to comply with their obligations and stay safe. Employers who want help to do the right thing can take advantage of OSHA’s free and confidential Consultation Program. This is aimed at small employers who may not have the same resources as their larger counterparts.

ARTBA: How is OSHA involved in the Department of Labor’s new Office of Compliance Initiatives? How can ARTBA members assist in this effort?

SWEATT: The Office of Compliance Initiatives is working to more effectively highlight all the Department of Labor’s compliance assistance resources and promote online resources to deliver information to the American workforce. ARTBA can assist by ensuring that its vast network of construction contractors is aware of the information available at Worker.gov and Employer.gov.

ARTBA: How is OSHA working with the private sector to manage the growing use of medical/recreational marijuana, and abuse of prescription drugs, in the workplace?

SWEATT: The President has directed the federal government to eradicate the scourge of opioid addiction. The toll on workers across the country is devastating to communities and families. OSHA and ARTBA can work together to help raise awareness of this issue and promote suicide prevention. OSHA has identified resources to assist in this effort.

The agency’s Northeast region signed an alliance with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and presented strategies to prevent occupational suicide. The agency is also working with the district attorney’s office in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and the county’s Opioid Task Force. In addition, OSHA is working with various states to insert training on non-traditional hazards – opioid addiction, workplace fatalities by suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder – into the State Licensing continuing education requirements for all trades license renewals.