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Government shutdown severely hampers OSHA

Workers in Pennsylvania who perform dangerous jobs may be especially concerned about the government shutdown which began on Oct. 1. The investigation of workplace accidents by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has all but shut down, with 90 percent of the agency's inspectors furloughed. Manpower levels are so low that only serious emergencies will receive a response.

This will create a backlog of work for OSHA staff once the budget stalemate in Washington is resolved. Enforcement cases have piled up, and employers' questions about safety issues are waiting for answers. OSHA is also unable to collect data from accident sites that it relies on in order to develop improved safety protocols and standards.

OSHA is seriously overworked due to ongoing budget cuts and staffing challenges, even when personnel levels are normal. The number of workplaces in the United States doubled between 1981 and 2011, but the number of inspectors available to monitor them went down. This has led to a situation where the average workplace can expect an inspection only once every 99 years. This could have deadly consequences. Approximately 13 workers died on the job every day in 2011, and OSHA has been stretched particularly thin by a number of serious accidents over the past year.

Workers deserve compensation when they are injured in an accident while on the job. However, submitting a claim and collecting benefits can be a complicated process. An attorney familiar with workplace accident cases may be able to help injured employees navigate the workers' compensation system. They could also file a personal injury lawsuit on their behalf if the accident was a result of negligence or inadequate oversight.

Source: Think Progress, "Workplaces Go Without Safety Inspections During The Shutdown", Bryce Covert, October 11, 2013

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