Enforcement and new regulations are twin themes of the  proposed 2015 fiscal year budgets of two Department of  Labor (DOL) safety and health agencies.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is  asking for $377.2 million.  The bulk of the money would  go toward strengthening its enforcement functions,  including adding six new employees. These employees are needed to shorten the time it takes to prepare special  civil penalties assessments and to implement corrective  actions in the wake of the 2010 Upper Big Branch-South  Mine explosion, MSHA said.  

The agency also wants more money to move forward on a  new regulation governing hazards faced by miners working  around mobile equipment in underground mines as well as  on issues for rulemaking that involve rock dusting,  ventilation, certified persons and mine examinations.

The agency has further proposed to end its $8.4-million  annual subsidy to the states for training.  It would be  replaced with a “new training model” whereby MSHA  personnel will develop more training curricula, exercises and  materials to assist mine operators satisfy their mandatory  training obligations.  Eighteen employees would be hired to  help transition to the new model.  MSHA proposed to end  the subsidy last year, but an outcry from the states led  Congress to order its reinstatement.  A similar protest is  expected this year.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration  (OSHA) seeks $565 million, up nearly $13 million from  this year. About a third of the new money would go toward hiring 27 new employees for OSHA’s  whistleblower protection program to address a surge in  such cases.  OSHA’s other federal enforcement programs  would see $3 million in new funding.

OSHA’s proposal also includes a request to amend its  appropriations language allowing the agency to target small  establishments for inspections where there is a potential for  catastrophic incidents.  Such businesses include those with  process safety management programs or which fall under  Environmental Protection Agency’s risk management  program. Currently, OSHA is prohibited from inspecting  businesses with 10 or fewer employees in industry codes  that have lower than average injury and illness rates.

The agency also identified injury and illness prevention  programs, combustible dust, infectious disease, backing  operations and recordkeeping as rulemaking priorities in the  coming year.  OSHA said it expects to release its  controversial silica proposal in FY 2016.  Public hearings on  the rule are scheduled to begin March 18.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health  (NIOSH) would see a $52 million decrease in its discretionary  budget in the new fiscal year, to $280.6 million.  The decrease  would come from eliminating the agriculture, forestry and  fishing program under the National Occupational Research  Agenda as well as NIOSH’s Educational Research Centers and the National Mesothelioma Registry and Tissue Bank.   Nanotechnology research would receive $11 million if the  budget is approved; the mine safety and health research  office, $52 million.