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Oklahoma Senator: “OSHA Has Failed”

OSHA LogoWhen regulatory programs rely so heavily on government funding, economic hardships and budget cuts can often lead to evaluation of their effectiveness. This is something that could affect the future of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in terms of procedure and enforcement of workplace safety.

The recent United States debt agreement has put additional pressure on lawmakers to decide how and where to make cuts in government spending. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. feels that OSHA is a good place to start, and is sparking controversy among its supporters.

“While OSHA’s work is important, it could and should be carried out more efficiently to save taxpayer dollars while simultaneously enhancing worker safety,” Coburn said. “In recent years, OSHA’s appropriations have increased significantly. Over the past three years, OSHA has attempted to intensify its commitment on regulatory enforcement. OSHA, however, has failed.”

Coburn’s budget proposal addresses criticism that OSHA has received in regards to the effectiveness of some of its procedures. For example, from 2008 to 2011 OSHA’s budget increased by $72.6 million, but according to Coburn, the number of inspections it conducted dropped significantly. OSHA’s website, however, says that the number of inspections has actually increased by six percent over that period.

Another issue surrounding OSHA’s funding is the assignment of penalties and fines; a large portion of each penalty they assign can actually be allocated to benefit the families of those who are affected by the violation, particularly in fatality cases. For example, a Colorado grain manufacturing plant recently paid out a $500,000 penalty for the death of a 17-year-old worker, and most of it went directly towards the victim’s family. The controversy here is whether a larger portion of penalties should be directed at programs that can actually improve workplace safety.

“Both parties will no doubt criticize portions of this plan and I welcome that debate,” Coburn added. “My goal is not to replace the work of budget committees but to show the American people what is possible and necessary.”

OSHA supporters are inevitably concerned about the implications associated with cutting back on the enforcement of occupational health and safety. There is talk about a shift in focus from enforcement and penalties to encouraging participation in certain voluntary compliance programs, such as OSHA’s current Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).

Research statistics show that participation in these voluntary compliance programs, such as the VPP, has proven to be a successful approach. Because these programs require voluntary effort and take less time from OSHA officials, they are more cost effective and can address a higher volume of facilities than inspections can.

“Clearly, OSHA must do a better job of effectively carrying out its enforcement activities while efficiently using taxpayer resources,” Coburn added.

This proposal is still in the early stages of review, but at least $72.6 million could be cut from OSHA’s budget if it is passed. If OSHA does end up facing severe budget cuts, there will be an added weight of responsibility on the shoulders of employers to remain diligent in enforcing a safe and healthy company culture.

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