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.