Workplace Safety In 2014 | OSHA’s Impact And Role In The New Year
Because of the number of injuries, illnesses, accidents, and fatalities that were occurring in the workplace, OSHA was implemented by the federal government in 1971 to establish a safety standard for all workplaces to better protect their workers. Despite the fact that there will always be the possibility of incidents happening within the workplace, OSHA has significantly contributed to workplaces becoming much safer over the past few decades. However, since OSHA is a government funded program, the recent budget cuts by the federal government during sequestration has some safety experts worried heading into 2014. Workplace safety is currently the safest it has ever been, but if OSHA’s spending gets cut any more, there is the possibility of a reduction in OSHA’s ability to protect workers across the country.
The current state of workplace safety is great, and a large number of people and organizations are to thank for this. “It is a testament to the hard work of employers, unions, health and safety professionals, and the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said. “Through collaborative education and outreach efforts, and effective law enforcement, these numbers indicate that we are absolutely moving in the right direction.” However, a new concern has arose regarding OSHA and the federal government’s reduction in OSHA funding by 5 percent. There has not been a single increase in funding for OSHA over the past two years and the government shutdown in October of 2013 caused all OSHA operations to be effectively shut down completely for over two weeks, or 16 days.
A 5 percent decrease in federal funding doesn’t sound like a big deal, but upon closer inspection it will affect more than you think. Joe Van Houten, Senior Director of Worldwide EHS at Johnson & Johnson mentioned that, “It’s very difficult for an agency to plan a series of proactive, preventative activities when the funding for those activities could be discontinued at any time.” Van Houten also maintains that OSHA continues to be a very relevant organization, along with NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), when discussing safety related topics in the workplace. Although it is tough to directly relate safety in the workplace back to OSHA standards, it is indisputable that safety related workplace accidents have significantly deceased since OSHA’s implementation in 1971. In fact, injuries and fatalities have been on a downward trend almost every year since then. Butch Tongate, Deputy Secretary for the New Mexico Environment Department claims, “If OSHA wasn’t around, you would see those trends start going back up.”
We got a feel for what life would be like without OSHA during the federal government shutdown in October. On September 30th, when the government screeched to a halt after no agreement could be reached on the current budget, all “non-essential” government services were shut down. That meant most OSHA operations stopped, including routine inspections, and the organization only responded to imminent threats, catastrophes, and fatalities. During the shutdown, safety experts are convinced that workers got hurt because of it. “OSHA is sometimes the only thing between death on the job and safety,” pointed out John Newquist, Illinois based consultant and former OSHA Assistant Regional Manager. Additionally, consultation services were also a casualty of the government shutdown which resulted in State Plan states losing about 90 percent of their consultation funding. Tongate emphasized this point by stating, “When people are asking you for help and you can’t provide it, that’s concerning.”
There are mixed opinions as to whether or not OSHA will be able to make up for the lost 16 days, but it is apparent that the shutdown and the ongoing bickering and fighting in the federal government could very well eliminate the possibility of addressing policies that will promote growth which would be beneficial to both employees and their employers. “Those types of things aren’t good for anybody,” said Amanda Wood, Director of Labor and Employment Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “It’s not good to have those types of activities or conflicts going on.”
For now, the current budget is temporary, with the agreement currently in place only lasting through January 5th of 2014. We could possibly be seeing yet another government shutdown if a new agreement is not reached by then. OSHA’s future, and workplace safety, will be heavily dependent on the resolution reached. Hopefully, both sides will reach a resolution that will benefit everyone and OSHA can continue doing the good things they’ve been doing.