Trouble Ahead for Cal-OSHA?

At a session last week at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo in Dallas, Garrett Brown, who works for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) in the San Diego office, indicated the status of the program might be in jeopardy.

The session was designed to update attendees about the status of Federal OSHA and "state plan programs," such as the one offered in California. Brown claims Cal-OSHA, considered by many to be the premier state plan in operation in the United States, is seriously undermined by what he calls "a lack of political will to fill vacant leadership positions, and to staff the agency at a level anywhere close to one necessary to be effective."

California currently has a budget deficit estimated to be as high as $36 billion, so even current levels are likely to be significantly eroded in the coming months.

California is the fifth largest economy in the world, noted Brown, with 17.6 million workers and 1 million workplaces, yet there are only 173 actual inspectors in the field doing workplace inspections (in all the compliance, high hazard, process safety management and mining and tunneling units).

Brown pointed that in 1980, there were over 11.5 million workers and nearly 5.5 million workplaces, with a federal benchmark for Cal-OSHA of one inspector for every 14,419 workers and 622 workplaces. By November 2001, there was one inspector for every 86,212 workers and 5,364 workplaces. The current ratio of inspections to workers and workplaces is one inspector for every 101,779 workers and one inspector per every 6,143 workplaces. If the 1980 Federal OSHA benchmark ratios were applied in 2003, Cal/OSHA should have between 1,174 and 1,635 inspectors, with one inspector for every 15,000 workers and 625 workplaces.

"The purpose of the presentation in Dallas was not to criticize the leadership of Cal/OSHA," said Brown, "but rather to draw attention to multiple threats to maintaining an effective program to protect workers' health and safety in California. These threats can be found throughout the United States and internationally as well."

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