OSHA Enforcement Request Survives 2014 Budget Unscathed

By Roy Maurer Feb 3, 2014

President Barack Obama signed into law an appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2014, which includes increased funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) above the sequestered spending limits of 2013.

The budget increases OSHA’s funding 3.2 percent above the 2013 sequestered spending limits to $552 million, which is still less than the pre-sequester allocation for 2013 and $28 million less than the White House requested.

At $208 million, OSHA’s enforcement activity is the only area of the approved budget to be fully funded. Other areas, such as standards creation, state programs and compliance assistance, had their funding reduced from the original White House request. The compliance-assistance budget request was cut $5.8 million to $69.4 million, the request for state safety and health programs was cut $4.2 million to $100 million, and the request for whistle-blower programs was cut $4.8 million to $17 million, which is a $2 million boost from 2013.

Enforcement Plans Announced

With the FY 2014 budget finalized, the agency announced that it expects to conduct 37,635 inspections this fiscal year—about 1,600 fewer than the 39,250 OSHA planned to conduct based on its budget request. The difference is mostly attributable to the October 2013 federal government shutdown, which prevented the agency from performing about 1,400 site visits, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Weighted Inspections

OSHA still plans to modify its enforcement approach by implementing a weighted system to rate inspections by their complexity, with the heaviest rating having the greatest impact on workplace safety and health. Under the new system, OSHA will target high-risk hazards; focus on more complex inspections, such as those at chemical facilities; and increase the number of health inspections. The agency will continue to use national and local emphasis programs to target high-risk hazards and industries, as well.

OSHA said its past enforcement strategy never accounted for the resource needs of more complex inspections. On average, a safety inspection takes 22 hours, and a health inspection takes 34. On the higher end of the scale, an ergonomics inspection can take hundreds of hours, and a process safety management inspection of an oil refinery, 1,000-plus hours, according to OSHA.

“With the burden to conduct more and more inspections with possibly fewer resources over the next several years, field personnel will continue to find themselves forced to conduct less-time-intensive, shorter inspections, such as multiple-employer construction sites, rather than the more complicated inspections,” the agency explained. “Under the current system, the only incentive for a compliance officer is to meet the inspection goals, as there is no incentive for them to do the larger, more complicated inspections.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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