In case you hadn’t heard, the U.S. government has been shut down. Of course, OSHA is part of the government. So what does it all mean to you? Here are the 10 things employers and EHS managers need to know.
OSHA is still operating, albeit with a skeleton staff of 230—90% of its normal contingent of 2,235. That includes both the National Office and all 10 Regional Offices.
There are still 2 inspectors on duty at each of OSHA’s 92 area offices, not enough to handle the agency’s normal case load of over 500 complaints per day but, at least according to OSHA head David Michaels, adequate to respond to significant workplace emergencies, fatalities and catastrophes (involving hospitalization of 3 or more workers) and worker complaints about hazards that present a high risk of death or serious physical harm.
The shutdown in no way suspends an employer’s duty to report a workplace fatality, hospitalization or imminent danger situation or a worker’s right to file a hazard complaint, as made clear by the following message currently appearing on the OSHA website.
If you need to report a workplace fatality, hospitalizations, an imminent danger situation, or you are filing a hazard complaint, please contact our toll free number: 1-800-321-OSHA (6742); TTY 1-877-889-5627 (or contact OSHA’s area and regional offices during normal business hours.)
The OSHA website is still running but hasn’t been updated since the shutdown began on Oct. 1, 2013. Updates will resume when and if the political situation is resolved and the government begins operating again.
So far, there’s been no indication that the shutdown will have any effect on the deadline to provide GHS training to workers exposed to hazardous chemicals by December 1, 2013. Of course, that could change if the shutdown drags on for a long time.
Although OSHA hasn’t officially said this, it’s pretty obvious that the agency won’t be able to dedicate any of its scarce resources to long-term regulatory initiatives like new rulemaking for as long as the shutdown continues.
The tribunal that hears appeals of OSHA citations—the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission—is shut down.
Result: No appeals will be heard until the shutdown ends.
OSHA’s counterpart for mining operations, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), is also operating with a relatively robust staff of 966 of its normal 2,355 employees, more than triple what OSHA has to hold down the fort.
Federal government shutdowns are not a new phenomenon, the most recent one taking place from December 1995 to January 1996. OSHA had to stop nearly all of its activities during that shutdown. This time the agency appears better prepared. Of course, the longer the shutdown continues, the greater the strain on OSHA’s resources.
Last but not least, recognize that the federal government shutdown will have only indirect and marginal impact on the 21 states that have approved State OSHA Plans, including: