Over the past three decades, while OSHA's budget, staffing levels and inspection activity have dropped, the American workforce has grown and new hazards have emerged.
So says a recent article from OMB Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit government watchdog organization. The first in a series titled,“Bankrupting Government: How a Decades-Long Campaign Against Federal Spending Has Undermined Public Protections,”the article points out trends in OSHA's budget and workplace regulation. These trends include:
• OSHA's budget has been cut each year President Bush has been in office (when adjusted for inflation). The appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by the President in December 2007 cuts OSHA’s budget for Fiscal Year 2008 by about $1 million from the previous year. Since reaching an all-time high in FY 2001, OSHA's overall budget has fallen more than five percent under Bush.
It should be noted that while the overall budget and enforcement budget at OSHA have declined, the budget for compliance assistance has risen. And although money appropriated for enforcement activity has fallen during the Bush administration, the number of inspections conducted by OSHA and state regulators has remained consistent, says OMB Watch.
• OSHA staffing levels have not kept pace with the growth in the American workforce. In 1980, OSHA had approximately three staff members for every 100,000 American workers. For FY 2006, staffing levels had been cut in half â€” to only 1.5 staff members for every 100,000 American workers.
• Government agencies conduct fewer than half the number of workplace inspections conducted 30 years ago. In 1980, OSHA and state regulators conducted 1.77 inspections per 100,000 workers. By 2005, OSHA and the states conducted only 0.668 inspections per 100,000 workers â€” a 62 percent drop.
• After three decades of significant progress, declines in workplace fatality rates have stagnated in recent years. From 1996 to 2005, the fatality rate dropped by 0.8. For the period 20 years earlier, 1976-1985, the fatality rate dropped by 3. In 2004, the fatality rate actually rose for only the second time since OSHA's creation.
OMB Watch concludes that even if a new administration chooses to make worker safety a priority and revitalize OSHA management, resource constraints will still present a challenge. Moreover, federal funding is an important signal of our priorities as a nation. The inability of multiple presidents and congresses to consistently fund OSHA at the levels necessary to keep up with emerging hazards and a growing workforce tells the American people that workplace safety is not a priority.