Is OSHA Dropping Workplace Safety Rules to Stave Off GOP Budget Cuts?

Mike Elk

Last month, I wrote here about how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) seemed to be abandoning implementing key workplace safety rules. It appears that the abandonment of those rules might be an attempt to stall efforts by congressional Republicans to cut OSHA’s budget.

Republicans have been upset by tougher enforcement of OSHA standards under the Obama Administration. They claim such enforcement is job killing,” while advocates claim tough OSHA enforcement prevents people that still actually have jobs from being killed.

Congressional Republicans have proposed cutting $99 million from OSHA’s budget this year, which would be drastic. The Republicans have proposed a 20 percent cut and given [that] half a year’s over, that really means a 40 percent cut,” OSHA administrator David Michaels told NPR. It would really have a devastating effect on all of our activities.”

Republicans have been upset in particular by a set of ergonomic rules, the implementation of which OSHA announced earlier this week it was delaying (or stopping, as many advocates claimed).

As I wrote last month, the proposed regulation would have forced firms to count ergonomic injuries — also known as musculoskeletal disorder injuries (MSDs) — in statistics provided to OSHA. … Workplace advocates hoped that being able to point to companies where a high amount of workers were suffering from ergonomic injuries would allow them to hold companies accountable.”

Republicans and business groups have singled out this regulation with particular scorn. The proposal of the rule was delayed because of heavy opposition from big business, OSHA Director Dr. David Michaels said.

But the decision to stop implementation of the rule may also have been caused by the budget-cutting threats of Republicans. Even though agencies that regulate affairs affecting workers are still technically independent, GOP threats impacts their ability and willingness to enforce existing laws effectively.

This raises the question of whether or not President Obama will fight to maintain the independence of agencies like OSHA so they can implement currently existing laws on the books. So far, it is unclear whether he will or not. Although in an indication of support for OSHA, President Obama did call for actually increasing their budget by 4% this year while proposing a freeze on the budgets of other agencies.

Let’s hope President Obama will defend OSHA as the budget battle heats up, and stay on the side of workers.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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