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How Would Trump’s Proposed Budget Affect Workplace Health and Safety Programs?

The White House released its proposed 2019 budget earlier this week. As expected, the budget focuses mainly on reducing government spending by trimming or eliminating programs, often in an effort to spur investment from the private sector.

The proposal is just the first step in the budget process, and many changes are likely to take place before it’s finalized. Here are three ways workplace health and safety programs would be affected if the budget were to pass as is.

Reduction: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

The budget proposes to consolidate the “highest priority” research and activities conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) into the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a shift from its current position under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The administration also wants to eliminate NIOSH “activities that have less of a direct public health impact.”

Activities on the chopping block include NIOSH’s Education and Research Centers (ERCs), which are programs at universities that translate scientific research into workplace practices. The budget would stop direct federal funding for academic salaries, stipends, and tuition and fee reimbursements for occupational health professionals in these programs.

The budget also suggests that some of NIOSH’s activities “could be more effectively conducted by the private sector,” for example, collecting human body size data to aid in the development of equipment for worker protection.

Elimination: OSHA Training Grants

The budget proposes to eliminate OSHA’s Susan Harwood training grants. The program, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, awards grants to nonprofit organizations to “provide training and education for workers and employers on workplace safety and health hazards, responsibilities, and rights.” The primary audience for these programs is “underserved, low-literacy, and high-hazard industry workers and employers.”

According to the administration, “OSHA has no evidence that the program is effective…In addition, it is not clear that the training funded by these grants would not happen absent the Federal subsidy.”

Instead of the training grants, the budget proposes resources for OSHA’s compliance assistance activities.

Elimination: Chemical Safety Board

Once again, the administration is proposing to eliminate the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).

The CSB investigates chemical accidents (including combustible dust incidents) and makes recommendations for regulations to protect workers. The administration believes that the agency’s work is duplicative and also that under previous management CSB overstepped its bounds by focusing its recommendations “on the need for greater regulation of industry, which frustrated both regulators and industry.” (The administration acknowledges that the CSB’s current management “is making progress on rectifying the previous management challenges.”)

Trump proposed eliminating the CSB last year as well, a suggestion that was greeted by opposition from many corners. This is happening again.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Bloomberg in an email: “The U.S. averages more than 1,000 major industrial chemical accidents every year. Eliminating any federal capacity to learn the causes of potentially catastrophic industrial accidents would be unwise in the extreme.”

Jacinta Conrad, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston, wrote in Forbes that defunding the CSB is “likely to hinder efforts to identify the causes of chemical accidents,…worsen our ability to respond in previously unforeseen events [e.g., Hurricane Harvey],..[and] cost lives in future incidents.”

Even the industries the CSB investigates support the agency. “The mission of the Chemical Safety Board is worth preserving,” said Stephen H. Brown, vice president of federal government affairs for oil company Andeavor, told Bloomberg.

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Like we said above, this is only a proposal, and the final budget is likely to look very different. We’ll bring you the news as it happens, so sign up for our newsletter to stay informed!