Consistent with the Trump administration’s overall effort to curb the growth of the federal government, the number of federal workplace safety inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has decreased over the past year. According to an NBC News report, OSHA has lost 40 inspectors through attrition since President Donald Trump took office – 4 percent of the total inspection force, with no new hires as of Oct. 2, 2017.
The decline in total inspectors to below 1,000 raises questions of how effectively the agency can inspect workplaces, enforce federal safety requirements, and reduce workplace accidents. While this decrease in federal bureaucracy extends across a number of federal agencies, the lack of OSHA inspectors could have a real impact on workplace safety, especially in more dangerous work environments like construction, manufacturing, and meatpacking.
The slowdown in hiring isn’t the only contributing factor. Proposed budget cuts and uncertainty about future funding due to fights and disagreements over federal spending in both houses of Congress have made it difficult for OSHA to carry out its job, resulting in reduced fines for reckless employers to quickly close cases and reach settlements. Some worker advocates fear that when employers aren’t as concerned with an OSHA inspector showing up, the incentive to establish and maintain safe working conditions could deteriorate.
This decrease in inspectors by attrition didn’t start with the Trump administration, but it has increased dramatically over the past year. President Trump lifted the hiring freeze in April 2017, but most government agencies including OSHA haven’t bounced back with a reported 54 staff vacancies as of Sept. 30, 2017. OSHA has responded by saying it is in the process of hiring more inspectors but will not confirm how many have been hired or what their hiring goal is for 2018, according to NBC News.
And while 40 workers may not sound like a significant decline, when considering that the department was already understaffed and underfunded before 2017, the loss of inspectors is compounded. According to Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of labor at OSHA, the agency hasn’t had a budget increase in eight years, while being responsible for overseeing nearly 8 million workplaces.
As the first line of defense in enforcing safety and health requirements across all industries and workplaces, OSHA inspectors investigate employee complaints and report violations that result in fines and penalties against negligent employers.
One specific area of concern for workers in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina is the concentration of the decrease in inspections is in the southeastern United States. While the NBC News report points out that the total number of inspections is up between October 2016 and September 2017, the bulk of these ignore rural jurisdictions and lower-risk workplaces, instead focusing on more-dangerous workplaces with higher risks of injuries, illnesses, and fatal workplace accidents.
The long-term effects of this decrease in inspectors and a temporary hiring freeze remain to be seen. Even though OSHA has the green light to hire more employees, the temporary stall could affect the agency’s effectiveness in the future due to the months of required training and experience new hires need to get up to speed and efficiently police workplaces.
For 35 years, the attorneys of Grimes Teich Anderson LLP have been helping injured workers in North Carolina and South Carolina pursue the workers’ compensation benefits and other compensation they need for workplace injuries. We know how hard you work for your paycheck, and when you are injured at work, your life and finances may be severely affected. Contact us at by phone at 800-533-6845 or online now for a free injury and disability case evaluation.