The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations. — Jacob Lew

We previewed the budget late last week and that preview was pretty accurate. OSHA’s budget is essentially the same as the recently passed FY 2017 budget — flat except for the proposed elimination of the Susan Harwood Training Grants.  The FY 18 budget, like the FY 17 budget also calls for a $2 million (10%) cut in the standards budget from 2016 — the same cut we saw in the FY 2017 budget. The administration may regret that when they realize that it takes as many or more resources to roll back standard as it takes to issue them in the first place. And remember that because of inflation and other increasing expenses, a flat budget is actually a budget cut. OSHA will have less staff and do fewer inspections next year.

MSHA’s budget also remains flat.

Susan Harwood Training Grant Program

Trump proposes to eliminate the tiny $10 million Susan Harwood Training Grants program. The program dates back to OSHA’s New Directions grants of the Carter administration. Although OSHA is primarily an enforcement agency, OSHA also has an active training and compliance assistance programs because a workforce educated in safety and health is essential to saving lives and preventing occupational disease. Although Trump’s budget calls the program “unproven,” it is highly successful and has been proven effective in protecting the lives of this country’s most vulnerable workers. Some of its success stories can be found here (at least for now.)

The Harwood program is a labor-management training program, providing grants to non-profit organizations whose members work in high hazard industries. The grantees provide hands-on classroom and field training for workers about hazards in the workplace and their rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Universities, labor unions, COSH Groups and industry associations have been the recipients of these grants over the past 40 years.  Over the past several years it has particularly focused on vulnerable and hard to reach workers — those whose first language is not English, day laborers, temporary employees — and others in high hazard industries. Most of the grantees provide train-the-trainer programs, significantly multiplying the resources that OSHA invests in them. The value of the grants lies in the fact that these programs, and the training they provide reach workers that OSHA can’t easily reach by working with groups that have access to vulnerable workers. (Note: we are collecting success stories that describe how the Harwood grants save lives and prevent injuries. Send what you have to

Who needs Research?

Aside from the proposed demise of the valued Harwood program, the real disaster in this budget are significant cuts in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The NIOSH budget has been cut an astounding 40%, from $339.1 million to $ 200 million. NIOSH was created by the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act to be the research arm of OSHA. Despite all of the politics around workplace safety and health, establishing good policy that will effectively protect workers from chemicals, machine hazards, musculoskeletal disorders, workplace violence or the thousands of other hazards that maim and kill workers every day depends on good science, and good science is a product of adequate funding for the kind of research that NIOSH performs.  To make matters worse, the announcement of these proposed catastrophic NIOSH cuts come just before the Liberty Mutual Institute for Safety closes its doors.

Chemical Safety Board RIP?

And then there’s the Chemical Safety Board. The budget provides about $8 million for funeral expenses — funding  for the Board to use to shut down its operations. The President’s budget claims that the CSB is “duplicative” and that it “overlaps with other agency investigative authorities.” As with most justifications in the budget, this is wrong.  The CSB, as we have said (and will continue to say) performs a unique (and at less than $12 million per year, an inexpensive) function that no other Federal agency performs. The CSB is able to conduct in-depth root cause analyses of major chemical incidents and issue recommendations to government agencies (like OSHA and EPA), industry associations (like the American Petroleum Institute) and labor unions (like the United Steelworkers).

In addition, where OSHA and EPA can only look into specific violations of their standards and regulations, the CSB can look at deeper causes that aren’t covered by any regulations — things like the effect of worker fatigue or organizational changes on workplace hazards.  And while the CSB is not an enforcement agency and cannot issue citations, its recommendations can form the basis of changes in standards or on industry consensus guidelines. While OSHA has sometimes found some of their regulatory recommendations impractical considering how long it takes OSHA to issue standards, many of the CSB’s recommendations have formed the basis of OSHA’s current work on revising its Process Safety Management standard.

Because the CSB is not tied to any specific enforceable laws or regulations, it can explore the inter-relationship of federal regulations, state laws and industry standards to develop a much more comprehensive picture of chemical safety problems and their solutions.  A recent CSB investigation, for example, following an explosion at a refinery in Torrance, California, not only pointed to the cause of that explosion, but also noted that the refinery narrowly avoided a much more catastrophic incident: “An 80,000-pound piece of flying debris came just a few feet from a huge tank containing highly toxic hydrofluoric acid that could form a vapor cloud and travel for miles. Even small amounts can be lethal.”

And if that’s not bad enough

The rest of the Department of Labor’s budget does nothing to help workers. Here is a short summary (thanks to former DOL Deputy Secretary Seth Harris for the quick analysis)

  • The budget would slash job training funds by more than one-third and cut $218 million (or 13%) from Job Corps, which means some Job Corps Centers would close.
  • The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), which enforces non-discrimination laws and regulations for federal contractors,  would receive a 15% cut, reflecting this administration’s disdain for civil rights. Rumors abound that the Administration wants to eliminate the agency, folding its duties into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • The budget would devastate international labor efforts. The  Bureau Of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) faces a  78% cut, mostly in grants that fight child labor and other labor abuses.
  • The Office of Disability Employment Policy would be slashed by almost 30%.
  • The DOL Women’s Bureau, the only federal agency dedicated to working women  would be cut by more than 70%.

And while it’s not part of the Department of Labor, it should also be noted that the National Labor Relations Board is slated for a $16 million cut.

The Good News

Not much of that except to say that the President’s budget is never approved as proposed, and they will need Democratic support to pass a budget. The New York Times headlines its budget report by stating that the Budget Slashes Aid to Poor and Offers Huge Tax Cuts. Although that  meets the traditional goals of the Republicans’ party, this budget proposal is so drastic, it’s reportedly even making Republicans highly nervous.  The bad news, of course, is that there are Republicans in Congress would like to cut OSHA and NIOSH even more. And we haven’t even started hearing about budget riders that could prohibit OSHA from enforcing any standards or programs that Congress doesn’t like.

As I’ve said before if enough pressure is put on Congress, the final budget could also look better. That will be up to you.

What is to be done?

Secretary Acosta will be testifying on the President’s proposed budget before the House on June 7 and before the Senate on June 8.  There will then be long deliberations in the House and the Senate, and eventually both Houses of Congress will have to come up with a budget that they agree on. Because 60 votes are needed in the Senate, and there are some Republicans who are unlikely to vote for any conceivable budget, Democratic support will be needed in both the House and the Senate. The good news is that give the Democrats quite a bit of leverage. The bad news is that workplace safety and health issues are so small that it’s unlikely they would be important enough to stop an otherwise acceptable budget bill from going forward.   And again, that’s where you come in.

Congress has never in recent memory  been able to complete a budget by the end of the fiscal year, September 30. This year is unlikely to be an exception.  So, there will likely be a short-term “continuing resolution,” possibly until December or into the new year.

As we’ve said before, your Senators and Congresspersons will need to know that there can be no cuts in OSHA, MSHA or NIOSH.  And if you live in a district or state with members on the Appropriations Committees, your voice is especially important.

  • No funding cuts in OSHA, MSHA or NIOSH.
    • 13 workers die every day in American workplaces.
    • At current budget levels, OSHA can only inspect every workplace in the United States once every 145 years.
    • A strong enforcement program is needed to ensure that low-road employers follow the law. This helps responsible employers – why should they be at a disadvantage competing with law-breakers?
    • Mining continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Coal miners deserve protection.
    • NIOSH performs needed research on best practices, new hazards and needed solutions that help map our way to improved injury and illness prevention
  • Fund worker safety and health training — the Harwood Grants
    • Harwood grants have trained more than 2.1 million workers in dangerous jobs since 1978.
    • Harwood grants provide resources to non-profits (universities, unions, small business associations, worker rights groups) to provide hands-on training to small businesses and vulnerable workers.
    • Evaluations have proven them effective in saving lives and preventing injuries and illnesses.
    • The program is tiny: less than $11 million, or  0.0002 percent of the overall budget
  • No poison pill riders that would block worker safety protections or rights. No riders on silica, injury reporting and anti-retaliation protections.
    • Silica
      • Silica causes cancer and serious lung disease.
      • About 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers
      • The Silica standard was issued a year ago and will save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year.
      • Many employers are already implementing the requirements
    • Injury Reporting and anti-retaliation
      • DOL intends to delay a July 1 deadline when covered employers would be required to send the summary of their workplace injury and illness logs to OSHA
      • This information is important for workers and for employers to be able to compare their safety performance with other employers in their industry.
      • This regulation also forbids employers from retaliating against workers for reporting an injury or illness.

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