Foulke, who headed the agency since April 2006, was an often polarizing figure among labor and industry stakeholders, inside sources said. He faced strong criticism during his tenure from Democratic lawmakers and organized labor for the agency's dearth of new health and safety standards, but was praised by industry for his focus on voluntary compliance and industry outreach.
A health and safety expert for the AFL-CIO said she was disappointed that many of OSHA's accomplishments during Foulke's tenure were the result of either litigation, such as OSHA's rules on hexavalent chromium and employer payment for personal protective equipment, or legislation. The official noted, however, that she placed much of the responsibility for OSHA's inactivity with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao rather than Foulke.
A former Clinton-era OSHA official described Foulke's agency as in "hibernation" for the past several years and could not name any noteworthy accomplishments by the agency. He said he looked forward to OSHA becoming more active under an Obama Administration.
An industry stakeholder praised Foulke for advancing a "sincere message and at least getting the message out" during his time as OSHA chief and giving up his position at the law firm Jackson Lewis to lead the agency for a largely disinterested Bush administration. The stakeholder described Foulke as a "communicator" and had particular praise for OSHA's industry outreach under Foulke's leadership.
During Foulke's tenure, Labor Department and OSHA officials repeatedly touted dropping injury and fatality rates as evidence that OSHA's emphasis on voluntary compliance was working. Union sources countered that they believed injury and illness rates were being underreported.
In a statement last week confirming Foulke's resignation, DOL again praised Foulke for overseeing the agency at a time of dropping injury and fatality rates, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In summary: "As we near the end of the Administration, it is expected that political appointees will pursue other employment opportunities and challenges. Assistant Secretary Edwin Foulke will depart OSHA at the end of this week to pursue such challenges having led his agency to achieve the lowest injury, illness, and fatality rates in recorded OSHA history. American workers are safer today thanks to the dedication and service of Assistant Secretary Foulke and his team."