U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis had two messages for attendees at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ annual conference: We’re here to help companies provide safe workplaces, but we’ll also crack down on those who don’t.
“Make no mistake about it: The Department of Labor (DOL) is back in the enforcement business,” Solis told an audience of safety professionals in San Antonio, TX, attending Safety 2009.
She acknowledges that in these difficult economic times it’s more difficult for safety professionals to sell employee safety and health to their companies. For that reason, Solis said the agency wants to work with more companies to help them provide safer workplaces so that mothers and fathers can return home, uninjured, to their children each day.
But the current recession isn’t stopping OSHA and its parent department, DOL, from stepping up enforcement.
Solis noted that OSHA’s 2010 budget request calls for 130 more inspectors. In comments to reporters after her speech, Solis said, “I’d like to have more [inspectors], but we’re not in that position,” due to the economy.
The Secretary was asked about the lack of a permanent administrator for OSHA. Jordan Barab is the acting administrator and will assume the No. 2 position at the agency once a permanent head is confirmed. Solis expressed frustration with the U.S. Senate confirmation process. She noted that there are other nominees to DOL positions who have been in the pipeline for four months without being confirmed. She said it was important to have a new leader of OSHA, and that’s why Barab was appointed interim administrator, which doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
Solis said she hasn’t yet read the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found deficiencies with OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program. She said she agrees with the concerns expressed by the GAO and by members of the House and Senate regarding OSHA’s enforcement capabilities.
The Secretary also took the opportunity during her speech in front of thousands of safety professionals in San Antonio to announce a new initiative to decrease construction fatalities and injuries in Texas. Since 2007, there have been 145 construction fatalities in Texas, a number Solis called “intolerable.”
Beginning in July, OSHA will increase the number of inspectors in Texas for a concentrated effort aimed at construction sites. If an inspector sees scaffold, fall, trenching or other hazards, they’re empowered to launch an immediate investigation.
Check back with SafetyNewsAlert.com often this week for updates from the ASSE Safety 2009 conference.