OSHA has received all the money it requested for inspection activities this fiscal year, but less for its burgeoning whistleblower program.
An agency spokesperson said OSHA would conduct 37,635 inspections this year on a budget of $207.8 million. Originally, the agency proposed doing 39,250 inspections, but the 16-day government shutdown in October, 2013 cut that number by about 1,400 visits.
The agency plans to use its 2014 inspection experience to develop a “weighting” system for use in the future. Some inspections, such as process safety reviews, can take up to six months, while a construction worksite inspection may last only six hours. Either type of inspection is weighted the same by OSHA. However, using a differentiated weighting approach would allow the agency to measure and assign its limited resources more accurately for the different types of inspections it carries out.
OSHA has not disclosed details of a weighting system, but Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels is known to prefer inspections that take more time. If that happened, it would come at a cost of fewer inspections overall.
Unlike the inspectorate, OSHA’s whistleblower program received just $2 million in new money, far less than the $6.9 million requested. The agency wanted the money to augment its existing 115-member whistleblower staff with 47 new hires. The agency said it needs the new positions to help reduce a case backlog and deal with additional work created by recent laws, including the Affordable Care Act. An agency spokesperson said no decisions have been reached on how many new positions the $2 million would create.
OSHA's budget request predicted a backlog of 2,385 whistleblower requests in 2014. Last year, 82 percent of the 2,272 then-unresolved cases had been open for more than three months, with the average case pending for 13.6 months. Federal law calls for completing complaint investigations within one to three months, depending on the statute involved.