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DOL issues updated contingency plan during government shutdown

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Washington — An updated contingency plan released by the Department of Labor during the short-lived federal government shutdown could serve as a guideline should another hiatus occur next month.

This latest shutdown lasted three days – including one weekday – until Congress approved a continuing resolution on Jan. 22. The previous shutdown, which occurred in October 2013, spanned 17 days. The current continuing resolution is effective only through Feb. 8, which could bring more brinksmanship and have cabinet departments poised to activate their plans, if needed.

A DOL memorandum from Solicitor of Labor Kate O’Scannlain, issued Jan. 19, provides a chart – broken down by agency – of “on board” employees and those who would remain full-time if appropriations run out. Memos from other labor agencies also are included.

OSHA is slated to keep 372 of its 1,934 employees full-time in the event of a government shutdown, with some involved in five critical duties:

  • Investigation of workplace fatalities and catastrophes
  • Inspections of “imminent danger situations”
  • Follow-up inspections of establishments with “high gravity serious violations” and no abatement
  • Investigations of safety and health complaints from first responders, media or employers – in which employees may face potential exposure to serious physical harm or high risk of death
  • Enforcement activities on cases in which the six-month statute of limitations is close to running out, and where employees are potentially exposed to seriously harmful or possibly fatal conditions

The OSHA memo supplies a list of other “excepted” employees, including all regional administrators and area directors.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration would keep 1,099 of its 2,054 employees on full-time duty during a shutdown, and only 14 at the national level. The agency would continue inspections of “targeted mines and specific hazards,” investigations on incidents and miners’ complaints, and sample analysis. MSHA is required by law to inspect each underground coal or other mine at least four times per year and every surface coal or other mine twice a year. Those regular inspections are known as “twos and fours.”

The agency also would require 49 regional employees to review mine plan approvals.

At the Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (1,144 employees) would not have staff furloughed because their positions are “funded by other sources, including multiyear appropriations, indefinite appropriations or contract authority.”

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