Labor Secretary Makes the Case for More OSHA Staffing
When President Biden was sworn into office earlier this year, everyone anticipated that he would take steps to embolden the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That prediction held firm when he appointed union proponent Marty Walsh to lead the Department of Labor (DOL), and now Secretary Walsh is calling for increased staffing for the agency.
During a July 14 address to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, Secretary Walsh outlined the challenges that OSHA is facing. According to statistics provided prior to his speech, the worker protection agencies housed in the DOL lost 14% of their personnel throughout the last four years. In addition, during that same time, the DOL lost approximately 3,000 employees.
In making the fiscal year 2022 budget request, he asked the committee for $2.1 billion for the worker protection agencies, “including $73 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, $67 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, $35 million for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, $31 million for the Wage and Hour Division, and $37 million for the Employee Benefits Security Administration.” That is a $304 million increase from the fiscal year 2021 budget. He emphasized that the increase would enable these agencies to “conduct the enforcement and regulatory work needed to ensure workers’ wages, benefits, and rights are protected, address the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and improve workplace safety and health. These are the staff who recover back wages owed, help prevent fatalities and life-altering injuries or illnesses, respond to whistleblower complaints, reduce exposure to cancer-causing agents, help ensure retirees get their benefits, and address pay inequities.”
He further explained, “If we don’t have the staff and don’t have the employees to protect the workers, then we can’t be on the jobsites. We can’t make sure people are working in safe conditions.”
The request includes an 11.3% increase in funding for federal OSHA enforcement, which would also cover the hiring of 155 new OSHA inspectors (also known as compliance safety and health officers). In 2019, OSHA had 752 inspectors, per a November 2020 Bloomberg Law Report, a number that rose to 790 in 2020. In addition, the DOL has a goal over the next three years to double its number of investigators working in the whistleblower program. There are currently 360 of these investigators.
What This Means for Business
More inspectors will undoubtedly mean more inspections, so we expect an uptick in citations. While this could be bad news for most companies, the best defense is a good offense. Be sure your safety protocols are updated and that all your workers are adequately trained. Also, be sure you are well versed in OSHA defense and know your rights. There are many good strategies for handling an OSHA inspection and any resulting citations. An experienced OSHA defense attorney can answer your questions and help you navigate OSHA encounters when they happen.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.