Safety and OSHA News

Will cuts to OSHA assistance cause problems down the road?

Under sequestration, the Department of Labor (DOL) cut OSHA’s employer assistance budget so that compliance inspections could be maintained near current levels. Business advocates questioned that strategy. A new report shows DOL isn’t sure it was a good idea either.

First some background:

The federal government’s fiscal year 2013 budget was subject to sequestration which resulted in budget cuts for many agencies.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the sequestration reduced or delayed some public services and disrupted some operations in the 23 federal agencies it reviewed, including the DOL, the parent department of OSHA.

Regarding OSHA, the report notes:

“To mitigate the effects of sequestration, DOL reprogrammed funds based on the priorities of the individual [agencies] … For example, OSHA reprogrammed $11 million from educational, outreach and assistance activities funded through its assistance program to its enforcement program.”

For those in the mining industry, it turns out MSHA did something similar.

This comes as no surprise to anyone watching OSHA during the Obama administration. Even before sequestration forced budget cuts, OSHA had been cutting its assistance funding to bolster its compliance inspections and whistleblower program.

Business advocates argued compliance assistance was more helpful for businesses than compliance enforcement. OSHA made the opposite argument: Enforcement activities would be more effective to reduce the number of worker fatalities and injuries.

Now, the GAO report notes that DOL officials are wary of the longer-term effects of cutting compliance assistance programs:

“DOL officials told us that some of the effects may not be clear until the following years. For example, officials expressed concern regarding the reprogramming of funds in OSHA from education and outreach to enforcement. They said the lack of education and outreach regarding workplace safety and health regulations could result in increases in safety and health violations in later years.”

Not to mention injuries and deaths.

By comparison, EPA cut each program, project and activity area equally and did very little reprogramming of funds.

Under sequestration, OSHA had to cut its budget somewhere. Do you think it should have cut more in assistance, more in enforcement, or cut both equally? Let us know in the comments.

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