In its annual report on the state of job safety and health protections and performance, timed to be released on Workers’ Memorial Day, April 28, the AFL-CIO this year savaged the Bush administration’s handling of OSHA affairs.

“For eight years, the Bush administration failed to take action to address major safety and health problems,” according to the report. “Many OSHA and MSHA rules were withdrawn or blocked. The rules that were issued were largely in response to court challenges, congressional mandates or tragedies. New and emerging hazards were not actively addressed. Voluntary efforts were favored over strong enforcement.

“OSHA’s enforcement has remained relatively weak. The dollar amounts of both federal and state OSHA penalties are woefully inadequate, even in cases of workplace fatalities. The OSHAct’s criminal penalty provisions are also very weak and rarely utilized. OSHA funding and staffing has not kept pace with the growth in the nation’s workforce. As a result, OSHA’s ability to provide oversight has diminished with the average frequency of federal OSHA inspections now more than once every 137 years for covered workplaces. Congressional oversight and legislative action on job safety and health have increased significantly with the election of Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, and are expected to remain strong with the prospects for enactment of legislative improvements now greatly enhanced.”

“When it comes to job safety enforcement and coverage, it is clear that OSHA lacks sufficient resources to protect workers adequately. A combination of too few OSHA inspectors and low penalties makes the threat of an OSHA inspection hollow for too many employers. More than8.8 million workers still are without OSHA coverage. OSHA’s resources remain inadequate to meet the challenge of ensuring safe working conditionsfor America’s workers. In FY 2008, there were at most 2,043 federal and state OSHA inspectors responsible for enforcing the law at approximately eight million workplaces. In FY 2008, the799 federal OSHA inspectors conducted 38,652 inspections (727 fewer than in FY 2007), and the 1,244 inspectors in state OSHA agencies combined conducted 57,720 inspections (245 more than in FY 2007).

“At the peak of federal OSHA staffing in 1980, there were 2,951 total staff and 1,469 federal OSHA inspectors (including supervisors). The ratio of OSHA inspectors per one million workers was 14.9. By 2007, there were only 948 inspectors officers, or 6.4 inspectors per million workers, the lowest level in the history of the agency.”