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Sequestration puts worker safety in harm’s way

On August 3, 2011 our previous Congress actually agreed on something: The Budget Control Act (BCA). But save the celebratory cheers for bipartisan action for another time, as this piece of legislation has serious implications, especially for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The intent of the BCA is to reduce the federal government’s deficit by $2.4 trillion; the BCA has already provided $1.2 trillion in budget cuts by capping discretionary funding over the next ten years from 2012 to 2021. The remaining $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction was to be decided by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “Super Committee.”

After many months, the Super Committee just couldn’t see eye-to-eye on any deficit reduction proposals. So, Republicans and Democrats agreed to sequestration of the budget. What that means is across-the-board cuts to our important defense and nondefense programs. Unless Congress acts, most federal agencies will see automatic reductions to budgets of 8.2 percent starting on January 2, 2013.

Sequestration is a blunt instrument that imposes automatic cuts to the majority of federal agencies, and OSHA will be at serious risk if these automatic cuts take place. For example, OSHA’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 is $565 million; an 8.2 percent cut translates to roughly $46 million

Sequestration would return OSHA to 2009 funding levels and constrain the agency’s ability to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act

Currently, according to the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO), OSHA can inspect workplaces on average once every 131 years, and provide one inspector for every 58,687 workers. If sequestration actually takes place, OSHA’s will be forced to cut an already inadequate budget, and this means workplace conditions will deteriorate.

As the end-of-year fiscal debate goes on, workers and industry could be placed in harm’s way due to these potentially drastic cuts. We can’t let this happen. Congress must work together so that we can take steps towards progress, not steps away.

Keith Wrightson is Public Citizen’s workplace safety expert. Follow him @SafeWorkers and sign up for our worker safety digest.