An Already Understaffed OSHA Sees Decline in Inspectors

An Already Understaffed OSHA Sees Decline in Inspectors

The numbers of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) inspectors has fallen under President Trump’s administration, according to statistics obtained by NBC News. This raises questions about how serious the government is about protecting workers across the United States.

In the months after Trump took office, OSHA lost 40 workplace safety inspectors through attrition. It made no new hires to fill the inspector vacancies as of early October 2017, according to data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The departing OSHA inspectors made up 4% of the workforce, and the entire team of inspectors has now fallen to below 1,000. The reduced staff reflects a broader Trump administration effort to slow growth of the federal government. It also is part of a mass departure of federal workers across the government. This impact has been felt at OSHA, EPA, IRS and other agencies.

The fact that there are fewer OSHA inspectors is significant for workplace safety because they are the ‘boots on the ground’ that enforce U.S. health and safety standards in the workplace. OSHA inspectors typically engage in the following activities that can influence workplace safety:

  • Flag potential workplace hazards
  • Investigate safety complaints by workers
  • Document safety violations that can result in fines and citations
  • Investigate workplace accidents.

Like all federal agencies, OSHA has limited financial resources, so it places a priority on inspecting higher-risk workplaces; these include construction sites and manufacturing plants. These workplaces tend to have higher rates of fatal accidents, serious injuries and illnesses.

OSHA Trying To Bring More Workers Onboard

Since early October, OSHA has hired new inspectors and is currently recruiting dozens more, according to the Department of Labor. That said, OSHA has faced headwinds in new hires in Trump’s first year in office. Trump enacted a government-wide hiring freeze last year and proposed cuts to the budget and to generally reduce the federal workforce through attrition. This has slowed the process of hiring new OSHA workers.

Enforcing the Law – Shorthanded

OSHA has stated it is still aggressively enforcing workplace safety standards even with fewer inspectors to handle the growing workload. The Labor Department reports that OSHA did 32,300 inspections from October 2016 to September 2017. This is a few hundred more than the year before, the first annual increase in five years.

But critics have warned that an inspector shortage is crippling the ability of smaller OSHA offices that were short-staffed before. The states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi have lost the most inspectors in recent months. This is especially alarming in Mississippi because it has one of the highest rates of worker fatality and injury in the U.S.

Experts say it is possible that more workplace accidents and unsafe workplaces could be the result of fewer inspections. It falls to workers themselves in some cases to be aware of safety problems in their workplaces and to speak out.

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