Will OSHA's budget be slashed by 50 percent? That's what the Senate Budget Committee recommends for the agency's fiscal year 1996 funding. But it's only a suggestion, and such drastic action is unlikely. Budget subcommittees in the House and Senate will decide OSHA's final budget this summer. A source in the Senate calls a 50 percent cut "hard to imagine," saying it would probably eliminate the agency. In the House, a source predicts up to a 10 percent cut. OSHA is asking for an 11 percent increase-from $312.5 million to $346.5 million.

Opponents of an ergonomics standard flex some muscle by getting Congress to prohibit OSHA from issuing an ergonomics rule in fiscal year 1995. The order, written into the budget rescissions bill passed May 16, does not affect OSHA funding, nor does it obstruct the agency from continuing research and development on the standard. The chance that OSHA would have issued an ergonomics standard during 1995 was so small that an OSHA spokeswoman says the prohibition is "not a big deal."

Conoco agrees to pay $1.57 million in OSHA penalties and to form interdisciplinary teams to perform a corporate-wide process safety management audit. An OSHA investigation into a fatal October, 1994, explosion at Conoco's Westlake, LA, refinery found process safety management violations. OSHA proposes $85,500 in penalties against Koch refining company in Corpus Christi, TX following investigation of an accident that occurred in November, 1994.

Maryland's general assembly votes to allow smoking in bars and restaurants, exempting those establishments from a workplace smoking ban which went into effect in the state March 28.

Cal OSHA collects only 5.9 percent of the "jumbo" fines it levies, according to a report published by the Service Employees International Union, Sacramento local. The state agency levied 138 fines totalling $9.12 million in a four-year period, but collected only $571,916. The report also alleges that the Cal OSHA appeals board reduces fines an average 84 percent on its most serious cases.

General Motors, The United Auto Workers, and NIOSH agree to conduct joint research on work-related injuries and illnesses. Early projects might include research into lifting guidelines, airborne exposures, and backbelts.

Osha issues booklets on fall protection and asbestos standards for the construction and shipyard industries. For a single free copy send a self-addressed label to the OSHA Publications Office, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Room N3101, Washington, DC, 20210.