Blogger Dr. Celeste Monforton of the popular public health blog “The Pump Handle” questions if OSHA should be spending $128 million in compliance assistance programs at a time when the Obama adminstration is clamping down on federal agency spending. She zeroes in the the Voluntary Protection Program, questioning the wisdom of spending millions in free OSHA on-call expert services for elite, EHS resource-rich OSHA-designated VPP sites such as Pfizer, GE, Lockheed, Northrup, Grumman, Entergy, Shell Oil and Delta.

“One could look at OSHA’s current $500+ million budget and ask whether an agency with a core mission of standard-setting, investigations and inspections should be directing $128 million to compliance assistance programs,” she writes. Could those funds be redirected to H&S efforts for underserved worker groups? Such as:
  • Initiatives to ensure that ALL workers know their H&S rights, and not relying primarily on employers to provide the information.
  • Improvements to ensure a strong safety net is in place for workers who exercise their H&S rights, and beef up legal action against employers who retaliate against them. OSHA’s senior officials must acknowledge and address the serious deficiencies in the whistleblower program, and make it first-rate. There’s an especially urgent need to do this before the upcoming National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety.

Writes Monforton: “Clearly, OSHA will not have the money to do everything that I hoped for a year ago. But, the President’s spending edict gives OSHA’s leaders a unique opportunity to change the agency’s direction with bold budget decisions.”

Monforton says she sent a Freedom Of Information Act request to OSHA on Jan 4, 2010 asking for the month/year in which the 2,314 worksites listed on the agency’s website were approved as VPP sites. “I’m waiting for the response. I requested the data to gain better perspective on how OSHA’s current responsibility to VPP sites may (or may not) divert resources from other agency programs.

Monforton, by the way, is assistant research professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Before coming to OSHA on December 9, 2009, OHSA chief Dr. David Michaels was professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Dr. Michaels and Dr. Monforton co-authored several papers while on the staff of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP), a project of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Heath Services.

It will be interesting in the coming months to see if Dr. Michaels shares his former colleague’s concern about VPP being a potential resource drain.