Washington, DC — The latest federal review of California’s worker health and safety program found critical understaffing and other major deficiencies. The findings reinforce the substance of a complaint filed this February against the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The latest U.S. Department of Labor “Comprehensive Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) Report” for Cal/OSHA covering the period ending September 30, 2013 was released this month. Paralleling the issues raised by the PEER complaint, this new review concludes –
- “Cal/OSHA remains understaffed and, as a result, is challenged to fulfill its important mission”;
- “The lack of staffing affects the citation lapse time, the number of inspections conducted, and the response time to complaints. In particular, the number of inspections conducted by current Cal/OSHA staff is well below the federal average. To compound this problem, there has been a steady decrease in inspectors since FY 2011”; and
- “Cal/OSHA inspections result in a rate of serious, willful or repeat violations significantly lower than the federal average [26.73% vs. 57.0% for safety and 9.09% vs. 53.7% for health]. This suggests that the agency’s limited resources are not being applied most efficiently and effectively.”
Among the effects cited in the report are workers exposed to hazards longer due to “a long citation lapse time, the time between the start of an inspection and the issuance of a citation.” The state’s new budget does provide for a handful of new compliance officers but still leaves Cal/OSHA at staffing levels below those at the end of Schwarzenegger administration in 2011.
“California workers are paying the price for a cratering Cal/OSHA.” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor seeks financial and other sanctions unless improvements occur. “California needs to be jolted out of its occupational death spiral.”
In addition to staffing concerns, the federal report charges that –
- California has misused federal grants for ineligible purposes, buttressing a similar complaint to the State Auditor by Garrett Brown, a former Special Assistant to the Cal/OSHA Chief;
- The program shielding workers who blow the whistle on unsafe conditions is being mishandled, including cases settlements with illegal gag orders barring further hazard reports; and
- Cal/OSHA is not even sending out letters to next-of-kin of on-the-job fatalities “notifying them of the results of the inspection. An interview with one district manager indicated a lack of knowledge that letters were required to be sent out to the next-of-kin.”
“Today Cal/OSHA is an agency completely adrift,” added Ruch, pointing out that all three of the leadership positions requiring gubernatorial appointment and Senate confirmation (Chief, Deputy Chief for Enforcement, and Deputy Chief for Health & Engineering) are all vacant for the first time in memory. “Cal/OSHA should not need to be reminded to let a grieving family know what caused the fatal accident.”
The state of internal confusion is perhaps best illustrated by a July 2, 2014 memo from acting Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum calling for steps to “increase number of inspections” while at the same time identifying “greater numbers of hazards” in “inspections that are thorough and complete” that “collect higher quality evidence.” The memo offers no guidance as to how to simultaneously achieve these apparently conflicting goals, prompting Cal/OSHA staff to offer humorous suggestions how (see below).
Cal/OSHA staff suggestions