U.S. President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Douglas L. Parker for Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Labor. Parker, as the director of Cal-OSHA, California’s workplace safety agency, directed that state’s efforts to implement an emergency workplace COVID standard. The Biden administration continues to weigh whether or not it should issue an emergency temporary standard that includes Covid-19-related workplace safety regulations.
Parker, of San Francisco, Calif., previously served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration and was a member of the Biden-Harris transition team focused on worker health and safety issues. He also held positions as a senior policy advisor and special assistant at the Department of Labor.
He currently serves as chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), a position he has held since 2019. Prior to his appointment to Cal/OSHA, Parker was executive director of Worksafe, an Oakland, California-based legal services provider.
“With his history at the United Steel Workers, Cal-OSHA, and MSHA, Doug Parker’s appointment would probably indicate increased enforcement activity from the agency,” said Scott Gaddis, Practice Leader and Vice President, Health and Safety, Intelex. “Over the last year, Mr. Parker led an aggressive California program with as much enforcement activity in 2020 as federal OSHA did in total. He also led an aggressive control plan for COVID-19, so I expect he will continue his work at the federal level to publish and enforce [a federal] COVID-19 Emergency Action Plan.”
Protecting Workers from COVID
That plan likely would build on “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace,” published by OSHA on Jan. 29, 2021 that is intended to inform employers and workers in most workplace settings outside of healthcare to help them identify risks of being exposed to and/or contracting COVID-19 at work and to help them determine appropriate control measures to implement. Separate guidance is applicable to healthcare (CDC guidance) and emergency response (CDC guidance) settings. OSHA has additional industry-specific guidance. This guidance contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace.
Before serving in the Obama administration, Parker was a partner at the law firm Mooney, Green, Saindon, Murphy and Welch, in Washington, DC. He began his legal career as a staff attorney at the United Mine Workers of America. Prior to law school, Parker worked in the private sector as a sales and marketing director, in communications for the Democratic National Committee, and was a staff assistant for the late Senator Paul Wellstone. Parker earned a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and a B.A. in history from James Madison University. He is married and has two daughters. Parker is originally from Bluefield, West Virginia, and grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia.
OSHA has not had a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of labor since Dr. David Michaels left the agency in January 2017. Former President Donald Trump nominated Scott Mugno for assistant secretary of labor in October 2017, but Mugno withdrew from consideration in May 2019 after waiting 19 months for Senate confirmation.
For additional insight about Parker’s tenure at Cal-OSHA, listen to the Jan. 7, 2021 edition of Workplace Safety Review, global law firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP’s OSHA podcast, “Interview with Doug Parker, Cal-OSHA Chief.” Greenberg Traurig’s Michael T. Taylor and Adam Roseman speak to Parker about the ins and outs of Cal-OSHA, his first 15 months as chief, and what Cal-OSHA is planning for 2021.
Host of Workplace Safety Review and chair of the firm’s OSHA Group, Taylor interviews influential environmental, health, and safety professionals across the country in a broad range of industries. “I really enjoyed having Doug on our podcast,” said Taylor. “He is very engaging and thoughtful regarding workplace safety and health issues. I wish him the best of luck during the confirmation proceedings.”