Monday, February 20, 2012

2013 Department of Labor Budget Q & A February 13, 2012

On February 13th several leaders of the Department of Labor held a Questions & Answers session regarding the 2013 Budget. The following are a few highlights specific to OSHA and safety in the workplace.

When is the final rule regarding GHS in the US expected to be adopted?

David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of OSHA responds:
Thank you for your interest in OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). We expect this rule to be published soon. This is a very important rule, which OSHA looks forward to publishing shortly. This rulemaking will align OSHA’s HCS with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), which was developed by the United Nations. As discussed in the proposal, this rule will establish a uniform system of labeling and layout for safety data sheets. The training required in the current HCS will be retained.

While the DOL's Budget brief pints out a drive to boost small businesses, will OSHA change its attitude from "gotcha" to perhaps take a softer approach, such as giving companies a grace period, or levying fines based on employee count as opposed to fixed numbers--so as not to close down small businesses?

David Michaels responds:
We always try to work with small businesses to protect employees and our enforcement policies include a reduction of fines, and OSHA also offers free on-site consultation specifically targeted to small businesses.

The budget says combustible dust and beryllium NPRMs will come out in FY 2013. If that's the plan, why were those items placed on long-term actions in the most recent Regulatory Agenda?

David Michaels responds:
For combustible dust and beryllium the next major action planned will occur after the period covered by the current regulatory agenda.

The budget request calls for a $4.9 million increase for OSHA's whistleblower program, and a $3.2 million decrease for its federal compliance assistance program. Can you comment on these proposals?

David Michaels responds:
Although our compliance assistance activities are divided into three budget categories, we view it as a whole, and overall, FY 2013 compliance assistance is 2% above FY 2011. Because of the severe budget constraints we’re facing throughout the federal government, we are tightening our belts in a number of areas and we had to choose among many priorities. In this case, our priority is maintaining the 2012 increases for small business assistance through our state consultation program.

Could you elaborate on this line in OSHA's budget? "savings of $2,482,000 and 33 FTE due to reduced federal compliance assistance activity from the consolidation of personnel in geographically dense regions."

David Michaels responds:
OSHA has a compliance assistance specialist in every one of its more than 70 area offices. Many of these are situated very close to each other. In order to save money and streamline resources we will be asking some compliance assistance staff to cover a slightly larger area.

How can around 1,000 OSHA complianceofficers effectively inspect and regulate over 7,000,000 workplaces (conservative estimate)? What is the long term plan to level the playing field, the math just does not compute?

David Michaels responds:
First of all 27 state plans have an additional 1,000 inspectors to cover about half the states. OSHA uses an inspection targeting formula, national and local emphasis programs, partnerships and cooperative programs like VPP to focus attention to where the highest hazards exist.

How does this budget effect OSHA? Will you be hiring more Compliance Officers?

David Michaels responds:
Under this budget, OSHA will not be hiring more compliance officers however the budget requests funding to hire 37 new whistleblower investigators.

How will the 2013 Budget Proposal effect the State Plan States?

David Michaels responds:
The FY 2013 budget request for State Plan States maintains the level of funding provided in FY 2012.

I would like to work for OSHA as an Inspector. What are the requirements needed for training?

David Michaels responds:
There are different requirements for industrial hygiene or safety specialist. You can go to http://www.dol.gov/dol/jobs.htm to see the job postings. Good luck!

With the reduction of 33 OSHA Compliance Assistant how will OSHA service our vulnerable workforce?

David Michaels responds:
Good question. OSHA is maintaining its emphasis on reaching out to vulnerable and hard to reach workers in high risk jobs, as well as small businesses. OSHA will continue its award-winning outreach efforts around such hazards as heat exposure, hearing protection and fall prevention. The cuts outlined in our FY 2013 budget request focus primarily on employer compliance assistance.

At 2:50 David Michaels indicated that OSHA would continue work on, among other things, injury and illness prevention plans. Does the 2013 Budget contain specific funding for I2P2 or is this referenced work to be done without specific funding?

David Michaels responds:
No, there is no standard-specific funding in the FY 2013 budget. OSHA's standards budget request contained $1 million increase for overall standards work.

Do we know which OSHA regional offices will be eliminated (e.g., will it be Boston or New York)? Also, will OSHA institute sub-regional offices to serve the areas where the offices are being consolidated?

David Michaels responds:
No, there are no specific plans on how the regional consolidations will be implemented. OSHA will maintain offices as needed to ensure that safety and health coverage is maintained.

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