Workplace safety may be taking a step backwards due to a decrease in OSHA officials.
According to data obtained by NBC News, there are fewer federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors under the Trump administration, raising concerns about the impact on worker health and safety.
In the months after Trump took office, OSHA lost about 4% of its inspection force. The inspectors are the ones that enforce federal health and safety requirements in the workplace by flagging potential hazards, investigating employee complaints and documenting violations, among other things.
OSHA typically prioritizes inspections for high-risk workplaces like manufacturing plants and construction sites, since those jobs have elevated rates of fatal accidents and injuries.
The administration’s reduced staff reflects the President’s broader effort to slow hiring across the government workforce, but OSHA recently acknowledged that it needs more manpower to do its job of protecting the health and safety of American workers.
Under federal law, OSHA has a limited window of time to issue citations for health and safety violations. So, with fewer staff, there is more pressure to reach a quick settlement with the employer. According to David Michaels, who headed OSHA during the Obama administration, rushing the process often translates into reduced fines for employers who breach safety guidelines.
OSHA says that its enforcement efforts have remained strong and the overall number of inspections performed from October 2016 to September 2017 was up for the first time in five years; however, some states lost more inspectors and are feeling a greater impact than others.
Industry groups stress that government oversight isn’t the key to protecting workers. "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."
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