Department of Labor asks for more OSHA investigators

By Jenny LescohierJuly 28, 2021

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaking at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/REUTERS)

OSHA is among the federal protection agencies the U.S. Department of Labor wants to boost staffing for by 2024, due to what it claimed is a 14% reduction in DOL personnel over the past four years.

The goal is to more quickly investigate and resolve an increasing number of complaints, many of which are due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh appeared before the July 14 Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing where he requested an increase in the number of safety inspectors and wage-hour investigators who scrutinize employer payroll records, reports said

DOL received $100 million in the American Rescue Plan for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and is requesting an additional $73 million funding increase in its budget request, a 17% increase over last year.

The proposal would bring overall Labor Department funding to $14.2 billion, a 13.5% increase that would enable the addition of 2,100 full-time employees. The department currently has around fewer 3,000 employees than it did four years ago, according to media reports.

“If we don’t have the staff and don’t have the employees to protect the workers, then we can’t be on the job sites. We can’t be checking wage and hours. We can’t be making sure people are working in safe conditions,” Walsh was quoted. “Our intention with this investment that we’re asking for today, and with the intention of the American Rescue Plan, is to staff back up to build back pre-four-years-ago level, but also enhance that.”

OSHA, which enforces workplace health and safety standards, has been “severely understaffed,” Walsh said.

“Certainly we’d had a difficult time keeping up with the average volume of business, but when you throw Covid-19 and the atrocities of some of the workplaces in our country with Covid-19, it made it very complicated,” he said. “We are currently in the process of hiring up and staffing up at OSHA so that we can have more inspectors who can go out to job sites.”

Walsh told reporters the problem boils down to an increase in OSHA-related cases coupled with a decrease in OSHA inspectors.

“We’re seeing increased potential problems and we have fewer people to go out and investigate those problems, so we have a lot of cases that are going kind of unchecked if you will,” he was quoted.

DOL aims to double the number of OSHA inspectors by the end of President Biden’s first term, reports said. The Department’s budget lists 1,820 full-time employees in FY 2020 and proposes 2,250 for FY 2022.

“So what we’re doing here is making sure that we have enough inspectors out there that when an employee calls the office with a complaint, we’re able to respond to that and not have it sit in a pile,” Walsh said.

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