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August 1, 2011

Sen. Coburn is Dead Wrong on Worker Safety

Senator’s Report Distorts Data in Call for Cuts to OSHA Budget

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A deficit reduction report that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) published in late July relies on misrepresented data when it calls for a $72.6 million cut to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) budget.

One section of the report, entitled “Back in Black,” urges Congress to eliminate OSHA training grants and shift the agency away from worksite inspections. Coburn, a member of the U.S. Senate’s “Gang of Six,” proposes that OSHA instead focus its resources on unproven voluntary safety programs.

“Sen. Coburn’s proposal would weaken OSHA and put workers’ lives in danger,” said Justin Feldman, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The report bends facts to conform to an anti-regulatory bent.”

The report misrepresents data several times, Feldman said. Attempting to show evidence of inefficiency at the agency, the report incorrectly asserts that the number of OSHA inspections declined between 2008 and 2010, a time when the agency’s budget was growing. OSHA’s official statistics, however, show that the number of inspections actually increased by 6 percent during this period.

In another case, Coburn’s report cites a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report as evidence that voluntary safety programs are effective. But the GAO report actually states that the programs have never been properly evaluated.

The Coburn report is particularly critical of OSHA’s training grant program, which pays for community organizations to provide health and safety trainings. Coburn calls for the outright elimination of this program, which trains more than 60,000 vulnerable, hard-to-reach workers each year.

“OSHA’s training grant program is one of the country’s only funding sources for worker health and safety education and accounts for just 2 percent of OSHA’s budget,” Feldman said. “Sen. Coburn, a physician, should see the importance of this program for public health.”

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