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OSHA Inspections Plummet Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Texas Plant Explosion Lawyer | OSHA Inspections Down Amid Coronavirus

The U.S. Occupational Safety Administration (OSHA) is conducting fewer workplace safety inspections under President Donald Trump, a trend that appears to have accelerated amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

OSHA Inspections Fell 2/3rds During COVID-19 Emergency

OSHA ensures safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. In addition to investigating plant explosions and other workplace accidents that result in death or serious injury, OSHA also conducts periodic inspections to ensure employers are complying with federal safety regulations.

According to a new report from the Center for Public Integrity and VOX, OSHA investigated  3,203 accidents that led to death or “catastrophe” – defined as the hospitalization of three or more workers –  during the first three years of the Trump administration.  Last year alone, the agency investigated  962 fatal or catastrophic workplace incidents — the highest number since OSHA began publishing such data in 2011.

At the same time, OSHA conducted slightly fewer workplace inspections than during a comparable period at the end of President Barack Obama’s second term.  Inspections have also fallen by two-thirds since March 13th  (when President Trump declared a COVID-19 national emergency) compared to the same period last year.

The declining inspection rate could have disastrous consequences for workers, as research has shown that the majority of workplace deaths and catastrophes occurred at sites that hadn’t been inspected by OSHA.

OSHA Now Employs Fewest Inspectors in Its History

OSHA has also been slow to hire and replace inspectors. While the agency had just over 950 inspectors in 2016, only 862 remained on the job this past January – the fewest in OSHA’’s history. Since then, the number of OSHA inspectors has fallen even further and currently stands at just 761.

“This will have lasting consequences,” Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA policy adviser under Obama now the National Employment Law Project’s director of safety and health, told the Center for Public Integrity. “It’s undermining the effectiveness of the agency.”

While it’s true that a growing workforce helped drive the rising number of fatal and catastrophic accidents before the pandemic hit, safety experts believe the rarity of OSHA inspections under President Trump has also contributed to the spike.

Dozens of OSHA Inspectors Left Amid Trump Hiring Freeze

“Unless someone dies at a workplace or there’s some significant accident, [the employer] is very unlikely to be inspected now,” said another former OSHA official under Obama, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the press at his new job.

The drop-off doesn’t appear to be driven by money, as Congress actually earmarked $576.8 million for OSHA during fiscal year 2020 — $19.3 million more than requested. Instead, many former OSHA officials blame a hiring freeze imposed during the first year of the Trump administration. Dozens of inspectors apparently left their jobs in the wake of the inauguration, and the agency has been slow to replace those individuals.

According to Rebecca Reindel, safety and health director for the AFL-CIO labor federation, rebuilding OSHA can only begin once those vacancies are filled.  She would also like to see OSHA hire more employees to update safety standards and ramp up criminal prosecutions of negligent employers.

“Going after those especially bad actors sends a strong message,” Reindel told the Center for Public Integrity.

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