Another Year of Sequester Will Hamstring Workplace Safety, Study Says

Think tank blasts cuts that force OSHA to reduce health inspections.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will celebrate Labor Day with a force of workplace inspectors that is smaller than it was three decades ago, a situation that will worsen if the current automatic spending cuts are renewed for another year, according to a study released Thursday by the Center for Effective Government.

OSHA has fewer inspectors than it did in the first year of the Reagan administration even though the number of workplaces and the size of the workforce has ballooned, from 4.5 million sites to 9 million, and the number of workers from 73.4 million to 129.4 million, according to the report titled “What’s at Stake: Austerity Budgets Threaten Worker Health and Safety,” from the nonprofit formerly known as OMB Watch.

If Congress renews sequestration for fiscal 2014, it would further reduce the OSHA inspection budget by another 7.2 percent, the study said, bemoaning similar cuts to the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“Squeezing the agency’s budget through harsher cuts would curtail the training of new inspectors and reduce their ability to keep up with emerging hazards,” said the report authored by Nick Schwellenbach, a senior fiscal policy analyst. “Over the next several years, OSHA is projected to lose a significant percentage of its existing workforce as safety and health inspectors and whistleblower investigators reach retirement age.”

At current staffing and workloads, federal OSHA inspectors -- who have state counterparts -- would need 131 years to inspect every workplace in America, the report asserts. “Charges of re¬taliation are increasing, and OSHA no longer completes its investigations within the statutory deadline of 90 days,” the report said. “In 2012, each OSHA investigator was handling about 26 cases, and each took up to 286 days to close.”

The center criticizes House Republicans for having sliced OSHA’s fiscal 2013 budget “to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels."

And they quote OSHA officials complaining at a May conference that sequestration forced them to scale back enforcement efforts in order to avoid furloughs.

Correction: OSHA's force of workplace inspectors is smaller than it was 30 years ago, but not its smallest in three decades. 

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