Report: Budget cuts threaten worker safety

August 29, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

California Jobs

There’s a new report out today — in advance of Labor Day — that explains how the looming budget battles in Congress threaten the agencies that are supposed to protect the health and safety of American workers. The report notes, among other things, that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is significantly underfunded and does not have the resources  it needs to fulfill its mission. More budget cuts would set OSHA back even more.

Today’s press release from the Center for Effective Government explains:

While OSHA has not suffered the same level of severe funding cuts that have plagued other programs, even before the sequester hit, its resources had not kept pace with the growth of the economy. Between 1981 and 2011, the number of workers increased from 73.4 million to 129.4 million, and the number of workplaces doubled from 4.5 million to 9 million. But the current number of OSHA inspectors is lower than it was in 1981. Each inspector is now responsible for overseeing the health and safety of 62,000 workers and 4,300 workplaces.

Among other things, the group says that another round of budget cuts would:

— Further curtail the training of new inspectors and reduce their ability to keep up with emerging hazards. This would come at a time when OSHA is projected to lose a significant percentage of its existing workforce as safety and health inspectors and whistleblower investigators reach retire¬ment age. Already in FY 2013, training and outreach were hit by cuts.

— Constrain resources for investigations into retaliation against workers who report health and safety violations to OSHA. Federal OSHA and its state counterparts have too few resources to regularly inspect all worksites and rely on worker complaints to identify the most dangerous establishments. Charges of re¬taliation are increasing, and OSHA no longer completes its investigations within the statutory deadline of 90 days. In 2012, each OSHA investigator was handling about 26 cases, and each took up to 286 days to close. This problem would likely get worse with additional funding cuts.

— Further cut resources to state enforcement and compliance programs, which federal OSHA has traditionally funded at about 50 percent of total costs. As this funding shrinks and state governments also cut their own health and safety funds, it’s likely that the country will see reduced enforcement and smaller reductions in injuries, illnesses, and fatalities on the job.

Nick Schwellenbach, Senior Fiscal Policy Analyst at the Center for Effective Government and the author of the report, said:

OSHA exists to ensure that we’re all safe on the job. While OSHA is trying to mitigate the immediate impacts of budget cuts, Washington’s continuing obsession with deficits will cause OSHA to be less effective in protecting workers. OSHA performs a valuable service in safeguarding Americans at work. However, the agency is stretched too thin. If we’re going to prevent debilitating accidents and tragic deaths on the job, Congress and the president need to commit to giving OSHA the resources to protect our health and safety.

The report is available online here.

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