The bill is scheduled to be enacted next week and the OSHA budget numbers are not expected to change.
While the total OSHA budget inched up by 2.3 percent, the Republican-controlled Congress once again awarded the largest percentage increase in new money to OSHA's compliance assistance programs: a 4.6 percent rise from last year to a total of $135.7 million in 2005. Spending on state and federal compliance assistance is to increase by almost $6 million while federal enforcement of OSHA rules will rise by just over $5 million to $171 million.
The House and Senate Conference Committee also approved language barring OSHA from enforcing annual fit-testing of respirators for workers exposed to TB until the Centers for Disease Control and Protection completes revisions of its TB guidelines.
OSHA is currently using the general industry respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) to protect workers exposed to TB and this rule requires annual fit-testing.
"I'm surprised Congress essentially overrode OSHA on the TB fit-testing exclusion," commented Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association. "The health care industry did not want annual fit-testing and they did a lot more lobbying than people realized."
Trippler said the fit-testing exclusion means workers could be more exposed to TB, while the health care industry argued enforcing the provision would add to their costs.
For years the administration has been trying to reduce spending on training grants by directing the money away from person-to-person formats and toward approaches that rely more on technology and distance learning.
Every year the Senate, and ultimately the Congress, has rejected the administration's proposed cuts and restored the money to OSHA's training grant program. This year was no exception, as conferees approved $10.5 million for the program, the same figure as last year and $6 million more than the administration requested.
Aside from this modification, Congress largely approved the dollar amounts the president requested for OSHA programs.
With the 2005 appropriations all but completed, attention now turns to 2006. The administration is expected to release its proposed 2006 budget early next year.
"With the deficit we now face, it will be interesting to see if OSHA will face cuts in 2006," said Trippler. "In 2005 the president proposed virtually flat funding for OSHA, but things are even worse now."