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‘Starved of resources’

October 9, 2012

A quick look at OSHA’s budget throughout the years shows a general slight uptick, but one that likely doesn’t match the scope of the agency’s responsibilities.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), an outspoken advocate for worker safety, recently pointed this out as a major problem:

“OSHA has such an important mission, but it’s absolutely been starved of resources and statutory authority to be a fully functioning agency.”

Woolsey, who is ending her 20-year career as a member of Congress in January, made the comment during an interview with my colleague Ashley Johnson for Safety+Health magazine. (Look for Ashley’s Q&A with the outgoing congresswoman in the November issue of S+H.)

Funding for OSHA has not kept pace with this country’s growth. Indeed, the budget for OSHA for fiscal year 2013 keeps funding for the agency flat.

It would take OSHA more than 100 years to inspect all workplaces one time in the United States, according to the AFL-CIO. In contrast, the Mine Safety and Health Administration inspects most mines multiple times throughout the year. It’s able to do this because MSHA targets a much smaller industry than OSHA.

Additionally, although MSHA’s budget is about $200 million less than OSHA’s, the mining agency’s funding is disproportionally larger than OSHA considering MSHA covers only mining operations and OSHA covers virtually everything else. In 2011, 154 mining deaths occurred; the bulk of the other 4,455 worker deaths that year were investigated by OSHA. Yet OSHA’s budget is only 34 percent larger.

This is a huge disparity. I’m not calling for MSHA to receive less funding, but rather for more resources to be given to OSHA. The agency tasked with ensuring employees’ lives and safety are protected deserves more attention and shouldn’t be shorted.

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

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