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Budget hearing: Acosta says DOL committed to enforcement; critics claim otherwise

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Washington – The Department of Labor remains committed to enforcing worker safety regulations, Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta insisted during a recent Senate hearing, but critics contend that proposed budget cuts would undermine those efforts.

Speaking about his department’s fiscal year 2018 budget request, Acosta appeared before the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on June 27.

During the hearing, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) questioned Acosta on OSHA’s perceived move toward more compliance assistance and potentially less enforcement. Acosta responded that a proposed $2 million shift to compliance assistance is small compared to the agency’s $543 million discretionary budget. “The fact that we’re engaged in compliance assistance, that we’re telling people what they need to do to have a safe workplace, doesn’t mean we have any less enforcement – it just means that we’re respecting them and saying this is what you need to do,” he said. “And if they don’t do it, then we’re certainly going to enforce.”

Manchin pointed out that the proposed OSHA budget calls for 26 fewer employees, which he says would result in “almost 1,000 fewer inspections.” Prior to the hearing, advocacy group National Council for Occupational Safety and Health issued a press release projecting OSHA would conduct 2,300 fewer inspections.

National COSH highlighted two other proposals the group believes are detrimental to worker safety and health: a $6 million cut for the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s inspection budget and the elimination of the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program.

In a House budget hearing on June 7, Acosta said DOL plans to provide direct training in place of the Harwood Grants, which provide funding to nonprofit organizations for the creation of worker safety training and education.

“We need stronger – not weaker – protections and enforcement in our workplaces,” Jessica Martinez, National COSH co-executive director, said in the release. “Cutting back on inspections and training puts workers at greater risk of getting sick, getting injured or even getting killed on the job.”

The Trump administration has proposed decreasing DOL’s budget by $2.4 billion. OSHA is in line to be cut by a relatively small $9.8 million, while MSHA is set to receive a slight increase, to $375.2 million from $373.8 million in FY 2017.

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