On Safety

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Give OSHA more money

March 4, 2014

President Barack Obama is due to present his fiscal year 2015 budget today. If we want to keep workers safe, OSHA is going to need a raise.

Under the Obama administration, the agency has received increased funding, but that funding has flatlined the past few years due to congressional budget wrangling and sequestration. Some people may question giving an enforcement agency more funding (who wants to be fined?), but providing OSHA more funds could very well make workplaces safer in the long run, regardless of one’s political viewpoint.

During the Feb. 24 episode of On Point with Tom Ashbrook, an NPR talk show, guests discussed recent troubles at the Internal Revenue Service and how failing to appropriately fund the IRS could mean even bigger problems down the road. If money can’t be spared to ensure the IRS properly does its job, the agency likely will perform poorly and, as an ironic result, catch fewer tax evaders cheating the government out of revenue.

A couple of callers to the program pointed out the parallels between underfunding the IRS and safety agencies.

“This is a great example of how underfunding an agency or program can end up wasting our money even more so than overfunding,” one caller said. “And I hope that people will look at this and apply that thought to many other underfunded agencies and programs, like, mine inspection comes to mind. Maybe we could prevent some disasters?”

“Or maybe chemical safety near water sources?” Ashbrook chimed in. “We saw that in West Virginia.”

Ashbrook was referencing the Jan. 9 chemical release disaster near Charleston that injured more than 100 people. Even before the incident occurred, several federal agencies had been working toward strengthening chemical facility safety, but nothing has come of it yet.

Later in the hour, another listener called in with a similar complaint about society wanting to have well-run agencies, but not pushing for the funding. As an example, he noted a sharp contrast between a desire for the United States to have the best teachers in the world and their low salaries compared with other developed nations. This disparity carries over to workplace safety and OSHA, the caller added.

“I used to work as a safety engineer, and OSHA was a joke because we knew we’d never get inspected,” he said. “If we did get inspected ... it’d be a $5,000 fine for a company that makes millions and billions of dollars.”

The caller isn’t wrong – OSHA likely won’t visit your workplace, and if they do, the average penalty will be fairly low.

Even if you’re not a fan of OSHA’s enforcement, the compliance assistance side of things doesn’t fare much better.

The bottom line: If we as a country want our workers to be safer and come home at the end of the day, then we need to provide OSHA with funding levels reflecting that desire.

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

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