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OSHA behind on Minnesota inspections

A 39-year-old New Carlisle, Ohio, man died on Aug. 6, 2013, after being buried in 8,000 pounds of fly ash while working at a cement plant in Middletown, Ohio. The death was ruled an accident. Earlier that year, 16 people were killed and 160 injured in an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. It had been 13 years since federal safety officials had inspected the cement plant. It also emerged that the Texas fertilizer plant had last been inspected in the 1980s.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which receives its funding from Congress, is facing budget issues that have been causing the agency to fall behind in inspecting premises for workplace safety violations. Because of inflation, the $552 million that OSHA received in 2014 is actually valued at $25 million less than the $458 million that it received in 2004.

The reduced budget has caused OSHA to act in a more reactive manner instead of a proactive manner. In other words, inspectors usually inspect facilities after accidents have already occurred. A director for a nonprofit advocacy group says that, due to budget and staffing issues, it would take OSHA at least a century to inspect all of the workplaces that it is supposed to oversee. This has led the agency to focus mostly on those employers that have a history of safety violations or those that involve hazardous work, such as construction.

Workers who are injured and the families of those killed in workplace accidents are likely to seek workers' compensation benefits for their medical costs and lost income or funeral and burial expenses. Some accidents occur because of the employers' disregard for safety regulations. In such cases, the injured employees or the families of deceased employees could waive their rights to workers' compensation benefits and instead consider civil claims.

Source: Dayton Daily News, "OSHA focuses more on accident response, hazards than prevention", Chelsey Levingston, July 09, 2014

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