slow growthWith the much anticipated sequestration deadline finally here, OSHA plans to freeze hiring and bonuses – moves that will enable the agency to avoid furloughing employees despite the looming budget cuts. That contradicts a Feb. 8 White House prediction that sequestration would force OSHA to take some of its inspectors off the job.

“This would mean roughly 1,200 fewer inspections of the nation's most dangerous workplaces, which would leave workers unprotected and could lead to an increase in worker fatality and injury rates,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the potential consequences of sequestration.

The agency’s budget is expected to take a $46 million hit if President Obama and Congress can’t break the current stalemate and agree on a way to head off the automatic budget cuts. Federal and state compliance assistance programs account for $134.2 million of OSHA's $564.8 million budget.

Sources say the agency strategy was communicated to OSHA employees in a recent memo. OSHA will also cut costs by curtailing non-essential employee travel and non-mission critical contracts if the sequestration cuts take effect today.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the Office of Management and Budget have approved OSHA’s request to reprogram funds, which will allow the agency to direct available funds toward high priority programs and reduce funds used on other items.

One of those high-priority items: OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which recognizes companies with exemplary workplace safety programs. OSHA chief David Michaels has emphasized his support for the VPP and said that its funding is secure. According to the OSHA website, the VPP program leads to a reduction in worker injuries and lower workers compensation costs, among other benefits.