Aug. 5, 2015
President Obama Should Veto Funding Cuts That Would Harm American Workers
FY 2016 Budget Cuts and Riders Targeting Worker Health and Safety Are Poison Pills
Updated on Aug. 10 to correct information in the second paragraph regarding funding cuts.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama should veto (PDF) the proposed fiscal year 2016 funding cuts to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), said Public Citizen, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) and 74 worker safety, labor, good government, public health, environmental and community groups. Combined, the 76 groups represent more than 6.4 million U.S. members and supporters.
Versions of the bill in both chambers of Congress contain funding cuts targeting OSHA and MSHA, as well as poison pill policy riders that would put American workers at further risk of death and injury. The U.S. Senate bill (S. 1695) would cut MSHA’s funding by approximately $19 million and would cut OSHA funding by nearly $28 million or around 5 percent from current funding levels. The U.S. House bill (H.R. 3020) would cut OSHA funding by $18 million, or around 3 percent.
“These are devastating cuts that will make it harder to protect workers exposed to dangerous hazards on the job,” said Mary Vogel, executive director of National COSH. “Today, there is only enough capacity for the average workplace to see an inspector once a century thanks to low staffing and incessantly inadequate budgets. It’s unacceptable that Congress is trying to make the problem even worse.”
Each year 4,500 workers are killed on the job. Over 3 million workers suffer serious occupational injuries, and 50,000 die of occupational illnesses attributable to workplace exposure to hazardous substances. The cost of job injuries and illnesses to the American economy is estimated at $250 billion to $360 billion a year.
One of the harmful riders included in the Senate bill would block the use of funds to promulgate or implement regulations relating to occupational exposure to silica without additional studies, even though OSHA’s proposed rule is based on decades of extensive, peer-reviewed research (PDF) on the hazards of silica exposure. Approximately 2.2 million workers currently are exposed to silica, which, in addition to causing lung cancer, has contributed to 1,437 silicosis-related deaths between 2001 and 2010. OSHA estimates that the new standard will save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis per year once the full effects of the rule are realized.
Additionally, language added to the House bill committee report would defund OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations to train employees and employers on the recognition, avoidance and prevention of health and safety hazards in their workplaces. The program targets audiences who might not otherwise receive training, including small business workers and employers, hard-to-reach or low-literacy workers, and workers in vulnerable and high-hazard industries. Since 1978, over 1.8 million workers have been trained through this program.
“If the proposed budget cuts are enacted, we will undoubtedly lose the worker safety and health improvements we’ve made over the years, as well as the opportunity for new achievements,” said Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Also, if the harmful policy riders are included in the bill, workers will face more injuries and deaths, and Americans will face higher economic and social costs in the long run. It’s far past time for our government to live up to its promise to ensure all workers are safe on the job.”