Proposed budget cuts to OSHA would have a significant – and negative – impact on the agency's ability to safeguard the health and safety of American workers, according to a report by the Center for Effective Government.
The Center says the agency is already unable to fulfill its core mission due to underfunding, and that deep cuts in the FY 2014 budget proposed by the House of Representatives would:
Further curtail the training of new inspectors and reduce their ability to keep up with emerging hazards. This would come at a time when OSHA is projected to lose a significant percentage of its existing workforce as safety and health inspectors and whistleblower investigators reach retirement age. Training and outreach have already been reduced by FY 2013 cuts.
Constrain resources for investigations into retaliation against workers who report health and safety violations to OSHA.
“Federal OSHA and its state counterparts have too few resources to regularly inspect all worksites and rely on worker complaints to identify the most dangerous establishments,” according to the report. “Charges of retaliation are increasing, and OSHA no longer completes its investigations within the statutory deadline of 90 days. In 2012, each OSHA investigator was handling about 26 cases, and each took up to 286 days to close. This problem would likely get worse with additional funding cuts.”
Further cut resources to state enforcement and compliance programs, which federal OSHA has traditionally funded at about 50 percent of total costs.
“As this funding shrinks and state governments also cut their own health and safety funds, it's likely that the country will see reduced enforcement and smaller reductions in injuries, illnesses, and fatalities on the job.”
4,300 workplaces for each inspector
Even before the sequester went into effect, OSHA’s resources had not kept pace with the growth of the economy. Between 1981 and 2011, the number of workers increased from 73.4 million to 129.4 million, and the number of workplaces doubled from 4.5 million to 9 million. Despite this, the current number of OSHA inspectors is lower than it was in 1981. Each inspector is now responsible for overseeing the health and safety of 62,000 workers and 4,300 workplaces.
"OSHA exists to ensure that we're all safe on the job," said Nick Schwellenbach, Senior Fiscal Policy Analyst at the Center and author of the report. "While OSHA is trying to mitigate the immediate impacts of budget cuts, Washington's continuing obsession with deficits will cause OSHA to be less effective in protecting workers.
"OSHA performs a valuable service in safeguarding Americans at work," Schwellenbach said. "However, the agency is stretched too thin. If we're going to prevent debilitating accidents and tragic deaths on the job, Congress and the president need to commit to giving OSHA the resources to protect our health and safety."
Click here to read the report online.