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Questioning OSHA's limited ability to keep workers safe

In the wake of the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, legislators and safety experts are questioning how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could have allowed the safety hazards at that particular job site to multiply to dangerous levels. Though the situation is unquestionably complicated, the bottom line is that an unacceptably high rate of workplace accidents occurs in America annually because OSHA's budget is profoundly limited.

OSHA is aware of the safety problems plaguing the nation's workplaces. But its already insufficient budget keeps getting slashed. Just days before the plant explosion, OSHA announced that due to its latest round of budget cuts it would be inspecting far fewer workplaces in 2014.

Many public criticisms of OSHA’s performance are fairly well founded. However, OSHA’s efforts have continually been successful in reducing accident rates when it has the resources to get the job done. Recent statistics strongly suggest that it is OSHA’s limited capacity and not its focus or commitment level that is contributing to ongoing high rates of workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities.

It is sometimes difficult to understand just how budgets impact operations on a practical scale. But OSHA’s budget is not difficult to parse. OSHA’s current budget allows it to inspect each American workplace once every 131 years, according to the New York Times. OSHA focuses its inspection capacity on the most potentially dangerous workplaces, but as the Texas fertilizer plant tragedy has proven, this agency requires additional resources in order to do its work effectively for the benefit of Americans everywhere.

Source: New York Times, “A Big Job, on a Tiny Budget,” Randy Rabinowitz, Apr. 29, 2013

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