Oct. 1 --The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety
and Health Administration furloughed more than 90 percent of its inspectors as a
result of the Oct. 1 shutdown of the federal government, leaving the agency
with only enough personnel to respond to the most serious workplace
Two inspectors at each of OSHA's 92 area offices will remain
working, according to the agency's Sept. 10 contingency plan.
The agency has followed that plan, spokesman Jesse Lawder told Bloomberg BNA
OSHA head David Michaels said in the plan that the agency must
have enough staff to respond to workplace fatalities, catastrophes and
situations posing imminent danger.
“OSHA employees should be able to
respond to safety and health complaints or other information when employees are
potentially exposed to hazardous conditions that present a high risk of death or
serious physical harm,” Michaels said.
federal government was forced to shut down for the first time in 17 years after
Congress failed to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to pay for
operations. House Republicans have refused to pass a government funding bill
without provisions to suspend portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable
Care Act. Senate Democrats and the White House have refused to negotiate on
suspending portions of the health care reform law, which was enacted in March
OSHA will keep 230 of its 2,235 staffers working during the
shutdown, according to the solicitor of labor's estimates.
Michaels said the agency's active staff will include: members of the
executive, compliance and information technology staff in the national office;
administrators and support staff in the regional offices; inspectors in the area
offices; and chemists and industrial hygienists in the Salt Lake City Technical
The government shutdown
leaves the agency unable to protect workers, Peg Seminario, director of safety
and health for the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg BNA.
responding to complaints, outreach, consultation, preparations for
rulemaking--all the ways OSHA prevents injuries and illnesses rather than
dealing with them after the fact--won't happen,” Seminario said.
The shutdown of the federal
government doesn't seem to immediately impact non-federal workers in the states
with their own occupational safety and health departments. For example, the
California Division of Occupational Safety and Health will continue its normal
day-to-day activities without interruption, spokeswoman Kathleen Hennessy told
OSHA has approved state plans in 25 states. Twenty-one
of those states police occupational safety and health for all non-federal
employees; four oversee public sector employees only.
There doesn't appear to be a clear end date for the shutdown,
representatives of federal workers told Bloomberg BNA.
“I don't think
anyone knows, because it's a political decision, not a governmental decision,”
said Alex Bastani, head of the American Federation of Government Employees Local
12, which represents workers at the Labor Department's headquarters.
8 is an optimistic estimate for when federal employees will be able to return to
work, said Dennis DeMay, chief of the National Council of Field Labor Locals,
which represents OSHA inspectors and other field office workers. But it may last
longer due to the deep divide between the two parties and the way that lawmakers
in many congressional districts are insulated from voter dissatisfaction, DeMay
forced debilitating furloughs in other government functions focused on worker
safety and health.
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
will keep just two employees active during the shutdown, one to maintain its
computer network and one to receive mail, according to the commission's contingency
Two programs at the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health will remain unaffected by the shutdown, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds told Bloomberg BNA. The
World Trade Center Health Program and the Energy Employees Occupational Illness
Compensation Program can continue to operate because they draw from alternate
funding sources, Reynolds said.
“Otherwise, most all other activities
will be suspended until something changes,” Reynolds said. “Most of the research
will be halted.”
The shutdown will bring the Chemical Safety and Hazard
Investigation Board's core activities to a halt, managing director Daniel
Horowitz told Bloomberg BNA. The Chemical Safety Board is keeping active three
of its 40 employees and the three board members, according to its contingency
“We'll have a skeleton crew to restart after the shutdown and
keep an eye on any chemical disasters that we hope will not occur during this
period,” Horowitz said. “But that is limited to just a basic screening. There
are no investigators available, and we don't anticipate that we'll be able to
respond to any disasters.”