Some good news from the Senate, and God knows, we need a little good news.
The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to approve a bi-partisan bill that provides a $4 million increase for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and full funding for OSHA’s Susan Harwood Worker Training program that the Trump administration and House Republicans have been attempted to eliminate for two years. OSHA’s FY 2019 OSHA budget would total $556,787,000, versus the FY 2018 budget of $552,787,000.
The committee also voted to reverse OSHA’s main accomplishment under the Trump administration — the removal of a running list of worker deaths from the homepage of OSHA’s website last year. The listing of names had been added to the OSHA webpage in 2010 in order to ensure that people knew of the extent of workplace fatalities in the US. As I wrote last year, “Without information like this, fatality statistics are just raw, sterile numbers. The purpose of adding names and circumstances was to impress people with the tragedy that workers and their families face every day.”
Instead of the list of workers killed, a different list now appears on OSHA’s Data webpage, listing only those fatalities that have received citations and removing the names of those killed. And replacing the list of fatalities on the Home Page is a new feature: “OSHA Working With Employers,” which highlights “Training, Compliance Assistance and Cooperative and Recognition Programs.”
The Committee report stated that:
The Committee recognizes the importance of disclosing workplace injury, illness, and fatality data to the public. Accordingly the Committee instructs OSHA to resume timely and public reporting on its website of fatalities that occur at workplaces, regardless if a citation is issued. Making this information and data publicly available furthers OSHA’s mission by ensuring businesses, workers and the public know about and have access to timely and complete information on workplace safety, including enforcement actions, injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
The Committee provides $102,850,000 to OSHA state plans — a $2 million increase and the first increase for the state plans since FY 2014. The state plan budget still has not recovered from pre-sequestration levels when it totaled $104,196 in FY 2012.
The Harwood program would be fully funded at $10,537,000 and the Report requires that agency to fund the longer-term capacity building development grants required by this act which the agency had eliminated. Last year’s bill contained the same language. As last year, the Committee also tells OSHA to spend $3.5 million on it Voluntary Protection Program.
The House FY 2019 appropriations bill, which cuts $7 million from OSHA’s budget and eliminates the Harwood program, has been held up by immigration and other matters. Unlike the bipartisan Senate bill, the House bill has no Democratic support. Last year, the Senate bill prevailed over a House bill that had called for drastic cuts in OSHA’s budget.
But everyone is not totally pleased with the bill. Intrepid Inside OSHA reporter Rebecca Rainey reports that Ranking Member Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is disappointed that the bill did not address her concerns with OSHA’s whistleblower protection statutes. “I’m disappointed that the report does not include a provision I requested calling on the agency to review its obsolete whistle blower statues as Administrator [Scott] Mugno committed to do during his confirmation process,” Baldwin said during the markup.
OSHA enforces 22 whistleblower statutes that run from workplace safety to financial fraud to nuclear power, rail safety and the environment. The program is underfunded and many of the laws — including OSHA’s whistleblower protections — are seriously outdated and ineffective. The Trump administration’s FY19 budget request also called for eliminating OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC). OSHA’s webpage describing the committee has been “archived,” stating that it “may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.”
The Senate proposes to fund MSHA at the same level it was funded last year, and did not agree to the Trump administration’s proposal to fold the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) into the National Institutes of Health. NIOSH is currently part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIOSH would also be flat-funded from FY 2018, rejecting Trump’s proposal to cut the budget by $200 million.