Federal Government To Expand Role In Workplace Safety?

Occupational health and safety programs are often overseen by state and local governments. New questions have arisen after a number of workplace fatalities tied to falling standards. A new bill is being considered by the House of Representatives to determine whether the federal government should have greater authority to conduct safety inspections, oversee state plans and levee penalties against employers who fail to provide a safe working environment for their employees. The bill follows a report by the Government Accountability Office showing that budget cutbacks and decreased staffing has allowed some state worker safety programs to miss their goals.

Unfortunately for many workers, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration faces many of the budgetary concerns that have led state programs to fail. One former policy analyst at OSHA reported that, at current staffing levels, OSHA inspectors will inspect each workplace once every 99 years. While this figure may be distorted by smaller employers, the truth is that OSHA, despite its best efforts, does not have enough people to ensure that American workers are protected from harm. With roughly 2,000 inspectors and nearly 7 million workplaces nationwide, the problem is obviously daunting.

Construction workers may face even greater problems than most workplaces. Construction sites are, by their nature, rapidly evolving workplaces. A highly dangerous condition may last a few hours, a few days, or several months. Employers may be reluctant to correct a problem until it has already led to injury or death.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “House Bill Would Boost Federal Authority Over Workplace Safety,” by Kris Maher, 18 April 2013