Monday, July 24, 2006

Senate Restores OSHA Worker Training Grant Funds

What would you pay to protect a worker's life? According to George Bush, it would be about $7.25.

The United States Senate passed its version of the Labor, Health and Education FY 2007 Appropriations bill last week and for the sixth straight year, Senators restored the Susan Harwood worker training funds that the administration was attempting to cut or eliminate. The bill also keeps alive OSHA's "Institutional Competency" grants that were originally awarded during the last years of the Clinton administration, and focus heavily on training for immigrant workers.

Senate report language stated that
The Committee believes that OSHA's worker safety and health training and education programs, including the grant program that supports such training, are a critical part of a comprehensive approach to worker protection. The Committee is concerned that OSHA has again cut funding to help establish ongoing worker safety and health training programs and has therefore restored the Susan Harwood training grant program to $10,116,000. Bill language specifies that no less than $3,200,000 shall be used to maintain the existing institutional competency building training grants, provided that grantees demonstrate satisfactory performance.
While the administration continues in its attempts to cut worker training money, funds for compliance assistance programs for employers continue to increase. Total funding for all compliance assistance programs to $130 million in FY 2007, while worker training grants remain at $10.1 million. The House has appropriated only $5 million for the Harwood grants, although traditionally the Senate version has prevailed.

Meanwhile, both the Senate and the House have expressed concern that OSHA has still not issued its stamdard requireing employers to pay for personal protective equipment like boots and gloves. The Senate stated that
The Committee is dissatisfied with the lack of progress on OSHA's regulation concerning Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment, the public comment period for which ended over 7 years ago. This is particularly important for Hispanic workers and immigrant workers who experience a disproportionate and growing number of injuries and fatalities. The Committee expects the Secretary to report to the Committee within 30 days of enactment of this act, the definitive status of this regulation, the agency's reasons for not issuing the regulation sooner, and a timetable for its issuance.
OSHA's total budget in the Senate bill for FY'07 is $491,167,000, $5,116,000 more than the House approved and $7,500,000 over the President's budget request. The FY 2006 budget was $472,427. Since the Bush Administration took office in 2001, they have reduced OSHA staff by 197 positions, from 2370 Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) in FY 2001 to 2173 FTEs proposed for FY 2007. The majority of these staff cuts have been in the standards and federal enforcement programs.

The AFL-CIO estimates that if you combine the President's budget request for OSHA, MSHA and NIOSH, the Bush Administration proposes to spend less than $7.25 per worker to protect American workers from job injuries, illnesses and death.

The Senate approved a $302,436,000 budget for MSHA, an increase of $14,600,000 over the Administration's request, and $23,567,000 more than the House allowance. The Senate expressed concern with the high number of fatalities in the nation's coal fields.
The Committee continues to be concerned by the over 40 percent increase in fatalities experienced in coal mines in the first 6 months of 2006. In the past 5 years, from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2006, the coal enforcement division of MSHA reduced staff by 217 FTE. It was for that reason that the Committee included an additional $25,600,000 in Public Law 109-234 to recruit, hire, train and equip coal mine inspectors and restore the office to its fiscal year 2001 staffing level.
For more information about the Bush Administration's other budget cuts in the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, check out the AFL-CIO Today.