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Washington Update: House Republicans tie OSHA’s hands

November 1, 2011

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For the second year in a row, it appears that OSHA’s budget for fiscal year 2012 will remain flat.

Appropriation bills for FY 2012 (Oct. 1, 2011-Sept. 30, 2012) to fund OSHA and several other agencies were released in September by committees in the House and Senate. The Senate’s version, which passed out of committee Sept. 20, provides OSHA with $561.1 million. The House Appropriations Committee released a draft of its version Sept. 29, proposing $565.7 million for OSHA.

Both proposed budgets offer slightly more than the $558.6 million in funding OSHA received in FY 2011 and 2010, but both fall far short of the Obama administration’s $583.4 million request for 2012.

“Given the budget battles going on, I wasn’t terribly surprised that both the House and Senate committees are recommending a lower amount,” Celeste Monforton told Safety+Health. A former employee at the Department of Labor and currently a professional lecturer at the George Washington University of Public Health and Health Services Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Monforton said the really troubling aspects of the House draft bill are several provisions that would essentially tie OSHA’s hands. The House bill stipulates that OSHA may not use any of its funding for some of its biggest initiatives:

  • The promulgation of the proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard. A number of state occupational safety and health programs already require such a program, as does the popular Voluntary Protection Programs.
  • The promulgation of a proposed rule requiring employers to record musculoskeletal disorder-related injuries in a dedicated column on injury logs. Many industry groups viewed this rule as the first step to the promulgation of an ergonomics standard, but OSHA and other proponents of the proposed rule say it can help identify – and eventually prevent – MSD injuries.
  • Enforcement of a new directive prohibiting residential construction employers from bypassing fall protection requirements. Before OSHA’s new directive went into effect in September, residential construction workers were allowed to use specific alternatives to conventional fall protection measures without a written plan or showing the conventional methods were not feasible or safe.

“When you have members of Congress trying to micromanage an agency on health and safety, that’s really disturbing,” Monforton said.

Another worrying aspect of the House draft is what it leaves out. Republicans are proposing to completely defund the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. (The Senate kept the program’s funding levels the same as 2011.)

It is odd that a party that has been so vocal about how OSHA should provide compliance assistance rather than enforcement – helping employers instead of punishing them – would completely cut a successful and popular program intended to do exactly that.

These provisions likely will not pass through the Senate, at least not in the appropriations bill. But that does not mean clear skies for OSHA. The funding level for the agency will likely fall somewhere between what the House and Senate are proposing – and a lot of initiatives the agency is seeking will not materialize.

In its budget request, the administration is seeking funding increases for these OSHA activities:

  • Strengthened federal enforcement – $7.7 million
  • Whistleblower protections – $6 million
  • Regulatory activities – $4 million
  • Promulgation of program rules (I2P2) – $2.4 million
  • Inflationary increase to state programs – $1.5 million
  • Additional Susan Harwood Training Grant Program funding – $1.3 million
  • Inflationary increase to state consultation – $1 million

Even without the provisions in the House draft, OSHA officials may have a hard time figuring out how to accomplish everything with a limited increase in funding. This is a shame – the agency needs to continually make improvements in how it ensures employers are protecting workers, and that is not something OSHA can do with stagnant resources and tied hands.

The opinions expressed in “Washington Update” do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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