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OSHA facing restraints in enforcement

Because of inflation, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Administration has experienced a $25 million reduction in its budget's value in the past ten years. This is why many workplaces in North Carolina and nationwide have likely never seen an OSHA inspector on their premises. In fact, one advocate says that it would take at least a century for OSHA to inspect every facility under its purview.

Some recent accidents have drawn attention to the lack of OSHA oversight. In April 2013, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, exploded and killed 16 people. Approximately 160 people suffered injuries. That facility had not been inspected since the 1980s. A Middletown, Ohio, cement factory had not been inspected in 13 years before an employee died of asphyxiation caused by engulfment in fly ash. The director of the Cincinnati OSHA office says that the lack of oversight is not only due to budget constraints but also because of staff turnover and government regulations.

OSHA does not have the ability to allocate its own funding. Rather, Congress decides how the money will be spent when it decides OSHA's budget. The agency also does not receive for its own use any fines that companies pay for safety violations. That money goes to the U.S. Treasury Department. A lack of funding and personnel means that inspectors focus on facilities that have a history of workplace accidents or those that are inherently dangerous, such as construction sites.

Most workplace accidents that cause injuries are resolved through workers' compensation claims. Many claims are completed quickly but not necessarily in the workers' best interest, and an insurer may attempt to prevent an injured employee to collect all of the benefits to which he or she is entitled, such as timely medical treatment. At such times, it may be necessary for injured workers to seek legal representation.

Source: Dayton Daily News, "OSHA focuses more on accident response, hazards than prevention", Chelsey Levingston, July 09, 2014

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