Cynthia L. Attwood was sworn in as Chair of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Review Commission), January 20, 2021, following her designation by President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Ms. Atwood is very familiar with the role of Chair, having served as Acting Chairman and then Chairman from April 2015 until January 2017. In 2010, Ms. Atwood was first appointed to the Review Commission by President Barack Obama and he reappointed her in 2013. In 2020, President Donald J. Trump appointed Ms. Attwood to a third term.
The Review Commission was established by Congress as an independent federal agency that acts as a quasi -judicial body to adjudicate contested OSHA citations. The Review Commission is comprised of three Commissioners who are appointed by the president to hear appeals from decisions of the Review Commission’s Administrative Law Judges (ALJs).
Ms. Attwood has had an extensive career in federal service and is a seasoned attorney and manager. Prior to joining the Review Commission, she served in several capacities at the U.S. Department of Labor spending over a decade in the Senior Executive Service as Associate Solicitor for Occupational Safety and Health Administration and as Associate Solicitor for Mine Safety and Health. In addition, for three years she served as Administrative Appeals Judge on the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board. In her early career, Ms. Atwood served in the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice where she litigated before the Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Court of Appeals.
The trend in recent Review Commission decisions reflects favorably for employers. Although Ms. Attwood is considered as pro-employee, in three recent decisions the commissioners unanimously decided in favor of the employer. The decisions resulted in a serious citation being vacated, an unforeseeable error was determined to be an understandable mistake and a trial judge’s credibility determination overruled. According to the OSHRC website, as of February 2, 2021, 21 decisions are awaiting review. If the trend is an accurate predictor, the Review Commission may continue to more highly scrutinize OSHA enforcement actions, representing a win for employers.