The Health and Safety of America's Workforce Are at Stake in Upcoming Budget Battles

-For Immediate Release-
Aug. 29, 2013

Contact: Brian Gumm,, 202-683-4812

The Health and Safety of America's Workforce Are at Stake in Upcoming Budget Battles

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2013—In advance of Labor Day and the looming budget battles in Congress, the Center for Effective Government has published a report showing that the health and safety of America's workforce is on the line as lawmakers gear up for the fiscal debates ahead. The report notes that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is significantly underfunded and does not have the resources it needs to fulfill its mission. Looming cuts would set it back farther.

"OSHA exists to ensure that we're all safe on the job," said Nick Schwellenbach, Senior Fiscal Policy Analyst at the Center for Effective Government and the author of the report. "While OSHA is trying to mitigate the immediate impacts of budget cuts, Washington's continuing obsession with deficits will cause OSHA to be less effective in protecting workers."

While OSHA has not suffered the same level of severe funding cuts that have plagued other programs, even before the sequester hit, its resources had not kept pace with the growth of the economy. Between 1981 and 2011, the number of workers increased from 73.4 million to 129.4 million, and the number of workplaces doubled from 4.5 million to 9 million. But the current number of OSHA inspectors is lower than it was in 1981. Each inspector is now responsible for overseeing the health and safety of 62,000 workers and 4,300 workplaces.

The end result is that OSHA cannot inspect a respectable portion of workplaces in the country on a regular basis. Another round of increasingly likely sequestration cuts or the even deeper proposed funding cuts in the House of Representatives' FY 2014 budget would:

  • Further curtail the training of new inspectors and reduce their ability to keep up with emerging hazards. This would come at a time when OSHA is projected to lose a significant percentage of its existing workforce as safety and health inspectors and whistleblower investigators reach retirement age. Already in FY 2013, training and outreach were hit by cuts.

  • Constrain resources for investigations into retaliation against workers who report health and safety violations to OSHA. Federal OSHA and its state counterparts have too few resources to regularly inspect all worksites and rely on worker complaints to identify the most dangerous establishments. Charges of retaliation are increasing, and OSHA no longer completes its investigations within the statutory deadline of 90 days. In 2012, each OSHA investigator was handling about 26 cases, and each took up to 286 days to close. This problem would likely get worse with additional funding cuts.

  • Further cut resources to state enforcement and compliance programs, which federal OSHA has traditionally funded at about 50 percent of total costs. As this funding shrinks and state governments also cut their own health and safety funds, it's likely that the country will see reduced enforcement and smaller reductions in injuries, illnesses, and fatalities on the job.

"OSHA performs a valuable service in safeguarding Americans at work," Schwellenbach said. "However, the agency is stretched too thin. If we're going to prevent debilitating accidents and tragic deaths on the job, Congress and the president need to commit to giving OSHA the resources to protect our health and safety."

The report is available online at

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