ASSE to Congress: Shuttering OSHA, MSHA Programs a Mistake

The American Society of Safety Engineers said it generally supports the administration’s FY 2011 budget for OSHA and MSHA but urges Congressional leaders to ensure the funds are used to fulfill OSHA’s mission by restoring funding for the agency’s Voluntary Protection Program and MSHA’s Educational Policy and Development.

In his May 28 letter to the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations’ Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Chairmen Senator Thomas Harkin and Representative David Obey, ASSE President C. Christopher Patton, CSP, outlined ASSE’s positions on the administration’s budget, including opposition to the elimination of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) funding.

“ASSE members are deeply concerned that the VPP has been eliminated from the proposed budget and request that full funding be restored to FY2010 levels,” Patton wrote. “We support Sen. Enzi’s amendment and Senate budget resolution to the budget to restore that funding. The VPP has made significant contributions to cooperative safety management in many workplaces.”

Other areas of the OSHA budget Patton noted are enforcement, safety and health standards, state plans, and training grants. ASSE is concerned that the increase for OSHA enforcement is coming at the cost of reducing educational efforts, training, and consultation -- the elimination of VPP.

“OSHA needs to bring more attention to the worst actors among employers, but not at the expense of encouraging employers to be as good as they can be in managing occupational safety and health,” Patton said.

ASSE also urged the Committees to find a better way for OSHA to promulgate appropriate standards more quickly and reasonably, noting there are several very important workplace rules in various stages of development that, when completed, will help prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. ASSE said it also is disappointed that the budget calls for a minimal increase in the budget for the 27 state OSHA plans, noting the current financial stress states are in.

Patton said ASSE supports the administration’s budget request for MSHA for FY2011, which reflects a $3.5 million increase from FY2010. He noted, “Mining fatalities have totaled 39 deaths in the last five months. Given these recent tragedies, if Congress determines that MSHA needs even more resources to address the needs for enforcement and training of inspectors, ASSE could support appropriate funding increases. MSHA faces many challenges, such as enforcement of underground communication equipment, the ‘pattern of violation’ issue, and improving consistency in interpreting standards.”

However, Patton urged the administration to change course on plans to shut down the Small Mines Office (SMO), a part of MSHA’s Educational Policy Development component. “SMO compliance assistance has helped small mine operators provide safer and healthier work environments, boost compliance, and experience smoother inspections because the operation and workforce are better prepared,” he wrote.

In 2009, 35 U.S. miners lost their lives, and in 2010 39 miners have died. ASSE believes an MSHA funding increase will help save lives and urges support for the administration’s request for an increase in funding and restoration to FY 2010 budget levels of funding for the MSHA Educational Policy and Development.

“Workplace safety and health impacts every American as well as the ability of every employer to compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace,” Patton said. “ASSE urges these committees not to compromise on funding for OSHA and MSHA so that their efforts can succeed in better protecting workers and helping employers succeed.”

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