The number of federal OSHA inspectors has dropped. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s total federal inspection force fell below 1,000 in early October. There are now 116 fewer staff than there were in December of 2016 for the federal OSHA department.
The reduction in staff reflects the government’s effort to reduce “redundancy, waste, and inefficiency” across the federal workforce, according to Rachel Greszler, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
OSHA is one of several federal agencies affected by the federal hiring freeze in early 2017. Some fear that fewer inspectors will mean more workplace deaths and injuries.
After all, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a small but vitally important agency. It is responsible for protecting U.S. workers.
The job of an OSHA inspector is to enforce federal health and safety regulations. They act to ensure compliance, reduce hazards, and prevent injury, illness, or death in the workplace. Click here to view a PDF guide that summarizes the OSHA inspection process.
According to David Michaels, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, “The lack of new inspectors makes OSHA invisible. If employers don’t think OSHA will come, workers are much more likely to be hurt."
Michaels and other concerned individuals claim that the reduction in staff has made it difficult for the Administration to do its job properly.
But those who advocate for a smaller government say that it's wise to consider if so many federal employees is truly necessary.
Critics have pointed out that the decrease in staff has crippled small, regional OSHA offices. Often times these offices are already short-handed. The hiring freeze and reduction in staff has only added to the problem.In fact, OSHA insists that enforcement efforts have not been affected by the reduction of employees. According to the Department of Labor, OSHA conducted 32,396 inspections from October 2016 to the end of September 2017. Which is a few hundred more than the year prior.
|Data retrieved from the United States Department of Labor|
Take the state of Mississippi for example. It has one of the country’s highest worker fatality and injury rates. From January 2017 to September of the same year, the number of deferral OSHA inspections fell by 26 percent. During the same time period, the Mississippi office lost 4 full-time employees.
But what about industry groups? Some say they haven’t noticed a shift in enforcement. And they also point out that government oversight is not the key to keeping workers safe.
"Inspectors don't make workplaces safe. People and programs do by working to prevent problems before they occur—and by creating workplace cultures where safety is top of mind," said Eric Mittenthal of the North American Meat Institute, the meatpacking industry's biggest trade association. "Safety programs operate continuously regardless of the frequency of OSHA inspections."
And he’s right. They should. But not every company has dedicated safety staff to manage the health and safety of its employees.
Time will tell, but things may be on the rise. According to a Labor Department spokesman, the agency has hired several additional inspectors and is currently in the process of on-boarding two dozen more.
But it can take months of training and experience for new inspectors to be effective in the field. In the meantime, let’s hope employers are doing their part and focusing on the health and safety of their workers.