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Government Shutdown Would Jeopardize Worker Safety

Sept. 26, 2013
"It's ironic that the efforts to hold the government's budget hostage to defund [the Affordable Care Act], which will ultimately bring millions of uninsured Americans into the nation's health care system, could wind up seriously harming the health and safety of the American public," argues Ronald White of the Center for Effective Government.

If U.S. lawmakers fail to settle their differences and avert a government shutdown, worker safety and health likely would be one of the casualties.

That's the assertion of Ronald White, director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government.

In a blog post, White recalls the brief government shutdowns that took place in late 1995 and early 1996.

"In planning for the 1995 government shutdown, then-OSHA Administrator Joseph Dear projected that only about 10 percent of OSHA employees would be working, and the Department of Labor estimated that 95 percent of complaints would go unanswered," White says in his blog.

White notes that OSHA "historically receives approximately 400 to 500 complaints from workers each day."

White points to a briefing that then-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich gave to his department managers, in which Reich indicated that the department would have to drop most of its activities aimed at protecting employees from workplace hazards.

A prolonged government shutdown also would subvert the EPA's efforts to protect the environment, asserts White.

The agency "carried out 19,000 inspections/evaluations of pollution-emitting facilities in 2011, or about 365 per week, to ensure that our nation's air and water are safe," White says. "With the possible exception of emergency environmental catastrophes, those inspections would stop under a government shutdown, providing a potential holiday for polluters."

Likewise, a shutdown could hamstring the abilities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide "critical public-health services."

"It's ironic that the efforts to hold the government's budget hostage to defund [the Affordable Care Act], which will ultimately bring millions of uninsured Americans into the nation's health care system, could wind up seriously harming the health and safety of the American public," White argues.

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