Add Minnesota to the growing list of states considering dropping their OSHA programs due to budget woes. Earlier this year Vermont's governor announced he was thinking about letting the Feds run his state's program. And last week North Carolina's labor commissioner expressed concern that her program might be cut.

Now Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal would save $1.2 million over the next two years by shifting regulation of private workplace safety in Minnesota to federal OSHA.

The proposal calls for laying off 69 employees, including about 50 worksite investigators.

If adopted, it would relax a number of state standards that are tougher than those of the federal OSHA program. Minnesota's 30-year-old state worker safety enforcement agency, for example, enforces worker exposure limits for more than 400 toxic substances that the federal government does not regulate because of a 1995 appeals court ruling. It also applies stricter rules for the construction industry.

A spokesperson for the governor told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that, given the state's fiscal crisis, "virtually everything's been on the table. We looked at the OSHA effort. The feeling was, this is duplicating effort - state and federal, and so we needed to eliminate the state portion."

The 1970 law creating OSHA gives states the option of enforcing workplace safety rules, so long as the state's regulations are as stringent as federal standards. Twenty-one states exercise this authority with the aid of 50-percent federal matching funds.

Pawlenty's plan would retain a few state inspectors to police public employee job sites, as well as continuing a popular state OSHA Consultation Program.

The spokesperson said the 29 states regulated by federal OSHA seem to be better served than states with their own programs.

"We've looked at safety records," she said. "On average, they are better in the states where the feds are covering the program. The penalties will be greater with the feds."

But Minnesota OSHA's annual report for fiscal 2002 said that both its health and safety inspectors issued more citations for serious violations on average than did federal OSHA inspectors.

While Minnesota's inspectors imposed lower fines, on average, the state's program was less likely to back down when employers contested penalties.