Fact: The last time the U.S. had a Republican Congress and Democratic President (1999-2000), OSHA’s budget actually went up. How did that happen? And, could it happen again?
Here is OSHA’s budget trajectory from 1998 to 2001:
- 1998: $370 million
- 1999: $384 million
- 2000: $408 million
- 2001: $455 million.
From 1998 to 2001, that’s a 23% increase.
Yet, during this period, the number of annual inspections by OSHA remained relatively steady.
So where did the extra funding go?
Toward voluntary compliance and compliance assistance programs.
From a General Accounting Office (GAO) 2004 report:
“The percentage of resources dedicated to voluntary compliance programs and compliance assistance activities has increased by approximately 8 percent since 1996, when these programs represented about 20 percent of the agency’s budget. During this same period, the proportion of resources OSHA dedicated to its enforcement activities fell by 6 percent, from about 63 percent to about 56 percent of the agency’s total budget, although the total funds devoted to enforcement have remained fairly consistent because of increases in OSHA’s total budget over this period.”
This period experienced a significant increase in companies entering OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Here’s the description of the VPP from OSHA’s website:
“The Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) promote effective worksite-based safety and health. In the VPP, management, labor, and OSHA establish cooperative relationships at workplaces that have implemented a comprehensive safety and health management system. Approval into VPP is OSHA’s official recognition of the outstanding efforts of employers and employees who have achieved exemplary occupational safety and health.”
The potential increase in VPP companies was so large that it started to concern OSHA officials, according to the GAO report:
“Several regional officials – whose offices are responsible for conducting on-site reviews [of VPP facilities] – said that increasing the number of VPP worksites would strain their resources because of the number of staff required to conduct reviews of new worksites and re-certifications of existing worksites.”
After taking a hard look at the balance of compliance and assistance programs within OSHA, the GAO concluded in 2004 that voluntary compliance strategies showed promising results, but more study was needed before expanding them.
Early in the Obama administration, OSHA administrator David Michaels and then-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said on numerous occasions that, with the limited financial resources available to OSHA, they’d rather put more money into enforcement than employer assistance programs like VPP. Michaels suggested companies pay to participate in VPP.
Statements like that dried up after the 2010 elections when Democrats suffered serious losses in their ranks in Congress. Republicans introduced bills in both the House and Senate which would codify the VPP, requiring OSHA to continue to fund the program.
VPP was here to stay but, as much was possible with the House under Republican leadership, OSHA did put more emphasis on enforcement and regulations, and less on assistance programs.
You say VPP, I say I2P2
One of Michaels’ priorities at OSHA was a proposal to require companies to develop their own Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2).
Here is how OSHA defined I2P2:
“Injury and Illness Prevention Programs are proactive processes that can substantially reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and illnesses and can alleviate the associated financial burdens on U.S. workplaces. These systematic programs allow employers and workers to collaborate on an ongoing basis to find and fix workplace hazards before workers are hurt or become ill.”
Sound familiar? VPP: comprehensive safety and health management system. I2Ps: systematic programs that find and fix hazards before workers are hurt.
You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to.
The key difference: voluntary vs. regulatory.
Now, OSHA says its priority to create a regulation requiring I2P2s has moved to its “long-term action” list. Translation: It definitely won’t get done before the end of this administration in January 2015.
VPP keeps chugging along. Michaels actually promotes it now, although with not quite the vigor with which he speaks about regulation and enforcement.
On the day after the November 2014 mid-term election, Senator Mitch McConnell, the man believed to be the next Majority Leader Republicans in the Senate, said he wanted to find common ground with President Obama and work together.
Here’s a suggestion: Find the middle ground between the compliance assistance programs Republicans have favored from OSHA and required OSHA programs that the Democrats like.
Start with the idea about encouraging/requiring companies to have safety and health management programs. Examples abound within VPP and in 15 states that require or encourage companies to develop the programs.
It’s been noted elsewhere that the irony of the VPP is that the participants are already good companies that want to get better. Perhaps it would be a good idea to require companies found to have serious OSHA compliance programs to develop a safety and health management program or join VPP?
The number of U.S. workers killed on the job has plateaued in recent years. If nothing else, maybe the two sides in Washington D.C. can find some common ground on ways to reduce this number.