State OSHA plans confront funding crunch, increased oversight (2/23)
The state plans deliver the OSHA program to 40 percent of the nation's workplaces, with Federal OSHA responsible for the other 60 percent, according to federal OSHA.
States must set job safety and health standards that are "at least as effective as" comparable federal standards. (Most states adopt standards identical to federal ones.) States have the option to promulgate standards covering hazards not addressed by federal standards.
That mission has gotten tougher and tougher to meet in the past decade. Since 2001, federal OSHA’s overall budget has increased more than 21 percent from $425 million in ’01 to $515 in fiscal ’09. But federal funding for state OSHA programs has not kept pace, increasing less than five percent during those years.
States received 18.0 percent of the overall federal OSHA budget in FY 2009, compared to 20.8 percent in FY 2001
Congress envisioned a partnership between federal OSHA and the state plans that would include federal funding of 50 percent of the costs. But the federal portion for State Plan Programs has diminished significantly over the years, according to information on OSHA’s web site.
The Obama administration has taken steps to increase federal funding to the state programs, proposing a 15-percent increase in monetary support for fiscal year 2010.
But as then-acting OSHA boss Jordan Barab told Congress last fall, “Unfortunately, the FY 2010 potential funding increase for the states comes at a time of serious fiscal crisis in state governments.”
“Many states have seen erosion in the inflation-adjusted resources committed to their OSHA plans,” said Barab. “As a result some states have even had to leave compliance officer positions vacant.”
These resource restraints come at the same time federal OSHA vows to step up performance monitoring of state plans. This comes in response to a host of problems that surfaced during an evaluation of the Nevada state OSHA program, conducted by the feds, after a series of high-profile construction fatalities along the Las Vegas strip.
“OSHA will conduct a baseline evaluation, similar to what we conducted in Nevada, for every state that administers its own program. These evaluations will lead to better program performance and consistency throughout all state plans," said Barab.
Just how that will be possible given the current dismal fiscal climate will be story that plays out in the remaining three years of the Obama administration’s tenure.