New York, NY – Worker advocates are calling on Congress to increase the budges of Federal agencies responsible for workplace safety.
Jessica E. Martinez and Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive directors of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, as well as Mike Fitts, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health (ConnectiCOSH), made their case in a letter submitted on June 30 to Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
“We simply cannot afford to cut corners on enforcement, outreach and education programs, in addition to other measures that keep workers safe – especially not when workers are facing even greater threats to our health and well-being,” the advocates said.
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee is meeting today in a mark-up session to review FY 2023 budget recommendations from subcommittees with authority over the U.S. Department of Labor and related agencies. The Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, also chaired by Rep. DeLauro, has recommended a significant $100 million increase in funding for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), as well as increases for the Mine Safety and Health Agency (MSHA) and the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition, the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies has recommended a funding increase for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
“When COVID-19 tore through our workplaces in 2020, OSHA’s response was totally inadequate,” said Martinez. “Weak guidance, not enough inspections, no answers to repeated complaints from workers. We can’t let that happen again.” The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the largest workplace death toll of any single disease or event in U.S. history.
At the end of 2021, Martinez noted, U.S. OSHA had just 750 safety inspectors, the lowest number in the agency’s 51-year history. “It makes no sense to disarm the agency charged with protecting workers at a time when there are growing threats to our safety and health,” said Martinez. “The COVID pandemic is far from over. Heat exposure will become more dangerous in years to come, as climate change leads to more severe weather events. And workers are still dying every year from hazards we know how to prevent, like trench collapses and falls from a height.”
Each year, some 5,000 U.S. workers die from preventable sudden workplace trauma, while an estimated 120,000 lives are claimed due to long-term occupational diseases and more than three million workers suffer preventable workplace injuries and illnesses.
“ConnectiCOSH has worked closely with Rep. DeLauro for many years, and she has a long track record of standing up for working people,” Fitts said. “It’s good to see long-overdue budget increases for workplace safety come out of the right subcommittees, but this budget has a long way to go to get through the House and Senate. Workers and families are going to stay involved, and raise our voices to get the protections we need and deserve.”