Trump Spending Plan Boosts OSHA Employer Assistance Efforts

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By Bruce Rolfsen

OSHA efforts encouraging employers to initiate safety and health improvements on their own would increase under the Trump administration’s proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2018.

The White House proposal calls for adding about 16 compliance assistance specialists. Forty-four specialists are now in the field, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The budget for federal assistance efforts would increase about $4 million in fiscal 2018 from fiscal 2017’s level to $72.4 million.

A prime benefactor of the boosts would be the Voluntary Protection Programs, an effort encouraging employers to implement safety and health programs and bring their injury and illness rates below industry averages. In exchange for meeting VPP goals, OSHA exempts VPP sites from programmed inspections. The workplaces continue to be subject to accident and complaint inspections.

The Trump proposal projects that for fiscal 2018, there will be 380 VPP site approvals or renewals—100 more than expected for fiscal 2017.

R. Layne Davis, senior adviser at the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association, told Bloomberg BNA May 25 that the additional dollars and OSHA staff would return VPP support to about the same level as during President George W. Bush’s administration.

The spending request also says OSHA will make more use of volunteer experts, called special government employees, to assist in reviewing VPP applicants. The outside experts aren’t paid by OSHA. They provide expertise in technical areas while assisting OSHA staff, Davis said.

Obama-Era Decline

During the Obama administration, OSHA and VPP had a sometimes shaky relationship. OSHA toughened oversight of VPP to ensure that VPP sites with fatalities or other catastrophic incidents would be reviewed and potentially removed from the program.

To help deal with stagnant funding while trying to limit the impact on enforcement, OSHA cut the number of compliance assistance specialists by 33 positions starting in fiscal year 2013, the Trump proposal said.

The loss of assistance staff meant it took longer to renew VPP certification and reviews of new applicants were delayed.

During the Obama administration, federal VPP membership declined 18 percent to 1,410 sites, according to OSHA. Some of the loss was attributed to the economy’s 2008 downturn, when employers closed and consolidated.

At the end of 2016, chemical plants were the largest group of VPP employers at 16 percent, while utilities were second at 9 percent, agency numbers show. Among all the federal VPP sites, 54 percent had 100 or more workers, including 22 with 4,000 or more employees.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

For More Information

OSHA's detailed request is available at http://src.bna.com/o9i.

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