Senate Spending Proposal Clarifies OSHA Chemical Inspection Policy, Boosts NIOSH

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By Bruce Rolfsen  

July 24 — A draft report and budget released by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee July 24 makes a significant change from past OSHA budgets, clarifying that the agency can inspect small establishments where the potential for a catastrophic chemical incident exists.

The additional details on fiscal 2015 budget proposals for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other safety agencies were released by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Though the subcommittee had issued its proposed budget for OSHA—totaling $557.4 million—on June 10, the spending numbers for related agencies and details of proposed budget riders weren't disclosed at the time.

The subcommittee's draft report says the new language on chemical facilities would enable OSHA to conduct inspections of nonfarm establishments covered by OSHA's process safety management standards or the Environmental Protection Agency's chemical accident prevention provisions.

The new language aims to make it clear that the long-standing congressional prohibition on OSHA inspecting employers with 10 or fewer workers in industries with lower-than-average injury and illness rates doesn't apply at worksites where there is a potential for a catastrophic chemical accident, such as the April 2013 explosion at the fertilizer facility in West, Texas.

Prior to the explosion, which killed 15 people, the facility hadn't been inspected by OSHA since 1985.

Appropriations language limiting OSHA inspections of farms with 10 or fewer employees when the farm doesn't include a labor camp for temporary workers remained the same as in past years.

The report also recommended that of the $557.4 million proposed for OSHA, $101.4 million should go to state workplace safety programs and $10.7 million to the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. No other specific spending limits were detailed for OSHA.


For the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the subcommittee recommended the agency receive $332.4 million, the same amount appropriated for 2014.

The subcommittee rejected the Obama administration's proposal to allocate $280.6 million for NIOSH and restored $27.4 million for education and research centers, $15.9 million for research and $1.1 million for the National Mesothelioma Virtual Registry and Tissue Bank.

The subcommittee also proposed to continue the Agricultural, Forestry and Fishing Program as part of NIOSH's National Occupational Research Agenda.

For other agencies, the committee recommended:

  •  Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission: $12.7 million, the same as the president's request and $1.2 million more than received for 2014.
  •  Mine Safety and Health Administration: $376.4 million, about $900,000 less than the president asked for and $500,000 more than received for 2014.

    The subcommittee's recommendations have a long way to go before becoming law. The Appropriations Committee has not yet met to consider the Labor Department budget; the committee's recommendations will have to be considered by the full Senate.

    The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, as of July 30, hadn't voted on a budget proposal for the agencies.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Stimson at

    The subcommittee's draft report is available at

    The draft of the subcommittee bill is available at