An effort to derail OSHA’s silica rule – which is expected to be finalized in February of 2016 – was defeated in the appropriations bill released by Congress this week.

“Millions of workers and their families can breathe more safely now," said Jessica Martinez, Acting Executive Director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). "It’s great news that despite efforts by special interests, the new proposed federal budget will not interfere with OSHA’s decades-long effort to reduce worker exposure to deadly silica dust." 

PSM restrictions

Republican lawmakers’ attempts to block the silica rule and restrict union participation in nonunion worksite inspections, joint employer liability under federal labor law were unsuccessful, but a policy rider that affects process safety management (PSM) inspections did make it into the bill.

The PSM rider says OSHA shall not enforce or declare to be in effect the July 22 revised enforcement policy for exempting retail facilities from coverage by the standard for process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals (29 C.F.R. 1910.119(a)(2)(i)) until several conditions are met: OSHA must conduct a public notice and rulemaking process for the enforcement policy and the Bureau of the Census must create a new North American Industry Classification System identification number for farm supply retailers.

The bill also carries over three riders from past years—the inspection exemptions for small farms and employers with 10 or fewer workers in low-hazard industries and a requirement to notify Congress in advance of new national or regional emphasis programs.

OSHA's budget will remain flat

Despite the silica rule development, OSHA did not get everything on its wish list – like a $40 million spending increase that would have enabled it to add 90 full-time staff members and 60 enforcement staff members to focus on process safety management inspections and responses to injury and amputation reports.

Additionally, OSHA had proposed adding 22 people to its whistle-blower protection section, bringing the total number of staffers to 157.

With a 2016 budget that will remain at about the same level as its 2015 one ($552.8 million), those wish list items may remain wishful thinking on OSHA’s part.

Other safety  agencies:

  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will get $339.1 million, up $4.2 million from 2015.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission will receive a $1 million increase over 2015’s budget, bringing it to $12.6 million.
  • The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board's budget remains unchanged at $11 million. The board requested $12.3 million.
  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration will get the same $375.9 million it received in 2015.

“It is unfortunate that budget authorization for OSHA and for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration will remain frozen at 2014 levels, which means cutbacks in critical safety personnel," said Martinez. "Tens of thousands of workers die each year from traumatic injuries and long-term exposure to workplace hazards. We need more inspections and enforcement, not less.”

The bill is expected to be voted on Dec. 18.