Making OSHA More Effective: President Trump and Secretary Acosta Need Your Help!

President Trump and Labor Secretary Acosta need you to do something for your country.

On March 13, President Trump signed an “Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch” directing the head of each agency to submit a “proposed plan to reorganize the agency, if appropriate, in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency.” And earlier this week, Secretary of Labor Acosta followed orders and sent out a tweet asking YOU to “share some input with me.”

So, when our country calls, we respond — because that’s just the kind of good citizens we are.

But in order to provide effective guidance to our leaders on how to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of OSHA, we should first have some basic facts at hand1.

  • 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the United States in 2016
  • An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 workers died from occupational diseases in 2016
  • Nearly 3.7 million work-related injuries and illnesses were reported in 2016, but due to underreporting, the true toll is 7.4 million to 11.1 million injuries each year.
  • At its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA, on average, 159 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once. In 22 states (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia), it would take 150 years or more for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace.
  • The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 76,402 workers. This compares with the benchmark of one labor inspector for every 10,000 workers recommended by the International Labor Organization for industrialized countries.2
  • Since the passage of the OSH Act, the number of workplaces and number of workers under OSHA’s jurisdiction has nearly doubled, while at the same time the number of OSHA staff and OSHA inspectors has been reduced. In 1975, federal OSHA had a total of 2,435 staff (inspectors and all other OSHA staff) and 1,102 inspectors responsible for the safety and health of 67.8 million workers at more than 3.9 million establishments. In FY 2016, there were 2,173 federal OSHA staff responsible for the safety and health of 139 million workers at 9.5 million workplaces.
  • At the peak of federal OSHA staffing in 1980, there were 2,951 total staff and 1,469 federal OSHA inspectors (including supervisors). The ratio of OSHA inspectors per 1 million workers  was 14.8. By now, there are only 815 federal OSHA inspectors, or 6.8 inspectors per 1 million workers.
  • In FY 2016, the average penalty for a serious violation for federal OSHA was $2,402 and in the state OSHA plans, the average penalty for a serious violation remained low at $1,747 in FY 2016;
  • The median current penalty per fatality investigation conducted in FY 2016 was $6,500 for federal OSHA and the median current penalty was $2,500 for the state OSHA plans combined, according to enforcement data provided by OSHA in April 2017. (“Median” means half of the penalties are below and half the penalties are above the median.)
  • OSHA has received more or less flat funding since 2012, which results in an effective budget cut every year.
  • OSHA has had language in its budget since the 1970’s prohibiting the agency from setting foot on a small farm (under 11 employees), even if there is a worker complaint or multiple fatalities.

So, that’s were we are right now. Clearly the problems above need to be addressed in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of OSHA. What do you think. Maybe OSHA needs much more funding and changes in it laws to better protect workers? Mr. Acosta wants to know.

But wait! If we’re going to have an agency that more effectively protects workers, we should also consider what new OSHA standards might be needed.  To name just a few ideas:

  • Infectious Diseases: Over the past few years we’ve seen new infectious diseases such as SARS, MERS, Ebola, and different variations of the flu that can easily travel from continent to continent. Health care workers are on the front lines of these new diseases, as well as all of the “old” diseases (like tuberculosis and MRSA) that can kill health care workers or make them sick. The only infectious diseases that OSHA currently covers are bloodborne pathogens, a standard that has saved thousands of lives over the 25 years since it was issued.
  • Workplace Violence: Workplace violence is a major hazard to workers, particularly in the health care, social services and retail sectors. 703 deaths caused by assaults and violent acts reported in 2015, accounting for 15% of all traumatic injury workplace deaths. There were 26,420 lost-time injuries reported in private-sector workplaces resulting from violence by a person. Women were at much greater risk of injuries from workplace violence, experiencing 68% of such injuries (18,050 cases). Nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, personal care aides and registered nurses were the occupations at greatest risk of injuries from violence, and patients were responsible for 45% of reported injuries related to violence. In January 2017, OSHA  accepted petitions filed by health care unions and the AFL-CIO, to issue a standard to protect health care and social service workers from workplace violence.
  • Process Safety Management: OSHA’s PSM standard, designed to protect workers in refineries and chemical facilities from uncontrolled releases and explosions, is over 25 years old and sorely in need of updating. A number of catastrophic releases over the past 10 years, and an Obama administration Executive Order following the West Texas Fertilizer explosion spurred action by OSHA to modernize this important standard.
  • Injury and Illness Prevention Program: Often called the first standard that OSHA should have issued, this standard would establish a simple process that employers of all sizes could fit to their specific workplaces. It would have 6 elements: management leadership, worker involvement, hazard identification, hazard control, training and evaluation.  The Obama administration never got around to issuing it, but there’s plenty of groundwork for the new administration to work from.
  • Combustible Dust: Fourteen workers were killed in a 2008 combustible dust explosion at Imperial Sugar in Georgia. Many more combustible dust explosions occurred before and after that event, generating calls from the Chemical Safety Board, labor unions and others to issue a standard that would protect workers from these deadly hazards.  Another one that the Obama administration didn’t get to, but Acosta’s DOL has a head start.
  • Cell Tower Safety: Ninety-one workers died and 17 were injured in cell tower incidents from 2003 through 2013.  Most of the fatalities (79) were due to falls.  With cell phone use and speed continuing to expand and the demand for more infrastructure continuing to grow, this is an area that both management and labor agree needs a standard that will protect workers.

OK, I could go on listing items that would improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of OSHA, and I’m sure you can come up with many more.

So click here to see an inspiring speech by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. Skip the tired, trite pictures of the piles of Federal Registers behind him3, and move to the part where he asks if you’ve had good or bad stories of your experiences with the federal government, and how the federal government has served or failed to serve you. He says he wants ideas about how we can fix things.

Scroll down a bit to where it says “What agency would you like to reform?“and click on “Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” Then scroll down to where it says “PLEASE SHARE YOUR IDEA, INCLUDING THE PROPOSAL AND BENEFITS. IF NECESSARY, YOU MAY INCLUDE A LINK TO A MORE DETAILED REPORT OR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION” and start writing.

What to write?  Do you think OSHA needs more staff? New protections for workers? Higher penalties? Larger budget? More standards and protections? Changes in its law?  Look at the list above. Read Death on the Job. Read this blog. (Hell, read my old blog while you’re at it.) Read some of the publications listed here.  Be creative. (And use the comment section below to let everyone know what you’re writing.)

Note that they also allow you to include a link. I’ll leave that to your imagination or if your imagination is limited, check out the Weekly Toll, Short Stuff in this blog, or any number of other reports and articles (like this or this) or articles and reports you’ve run across over the past years.

And if you have time, feel free to scroll through the category of “What agency would you like to eliminate?” My personal favorite would be “Executive Office of the President: The White House,” but choose your own.

And you can play multiple times. There appears to be no limit to the information they want from YOU.

Waste no time. Don’t let our President or Secretary of Labor down! The Executive Order requires agency heads (Secretary Acosta) to submit a proposed plan  to OMB by mid-September.


1. [Most of this data comes from Death on the Job 2017, AFL-CIO, based on OSHA and BLS data]
2. [International Labor Office, Strategies and Practice for Labor Inspection, G.B. 297/ESP/3, Geneva, November 2006. The ILO benchmark for labor inspectors is one inspector per 10,000 workers in industrial market economies.]
3. [I often find it amusing when Republican officials and the anti-worker protection lobby try to impress us with photos of a large pile of Federal Registers. Why? In March 2016, OSHA issued two silica standards — one for general industry, and one for construction. The Federal Register was about an inch and a half thick and came to 401 pages of very small print. Only 27 of those pages were the actual regulation. The rest was the health effects information, demonstration of economic and technological feasibility, a description of all of the comments from the hearings and written comments, and an explanation how OSHA responded to those comments. In other words, all of the information that Republicans and anti-worker groups demand in order to support a new OSHA standard. Then they complain that too many trees are dying. You can’t have it both ways folks.]

AFL-CIO Alex Acosta Deconstructing the Administrative State Office of Management and Budget Regulations and Standards Regulatory Process

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