Has there been a change of direction? The declining number of OSHA inspectors under the Trump Administration

Has there been a change of direction? The declining number of OSHA inspectors under the Trump Administration

by Travis Vance and Pamela Williams
Fisher Phillips

As all Americans are aware, each presidential administration has its own priorities. President Trump’s administration is no different in this regard. In fact, President Trump has put his stamp on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) by stalling, delaying or modifying Obama-administration policies (think the anti-retaliation rule and the e-file accident report regulation).

President Trump’s deregulatory agenda also has had an impact on OSHA’s staff. As reported in Politico, the number of inspectors working for OSHA decreased last year to the lowest number of inspectors in the agency’s history. As of April 2019, OSHA employed 870 inspectors nationally, including area directors, who generally do not conduct inspections themselves. This number is down from a high of 1,059 during part of the Obama Administration. Additionally, while the number of OSHA inspections rose the past two fiscal years, the number of complex inspections has decreased.

The decrease in OSHA inspectors has several potential repercussions. First, as noted, companies are less likely to be subject to complex or prolonged inspections where there has been no catastrophic event (although they will still occur in some cases). Second, because OSHA inspectors are stretched thin, OSHA may be less inclined to conduct an inspection based upon a report of an accident or injury or a complaint, unless a major safety hazard is present.

Rather, in these circumstances, OSHA may be more inclined to rely on a rapid response letter. Finally, if OSHA does decide to conduct an inspection, its inspection may be cursory. A cursory inspection does not mean that an employer is less likely to be cited for a violation, however. Rather, the citations are more likely to be unfounded.

Former Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta requested funds for 30 more inspectors for fiscal year 2020. Since his departure, Secretary Eugene Scalia has indicated that he would look at the issue of whether more inspectors are warranted. Only time will tell whether there will be a redirection such that additional inspectors will be added.

Travis Vance is a partner in the Charlotte office of labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips. He may be reached at 704.778.4164 or tvance@fisherphillips.com. Pamela Williams is a partner in the firm’s Houston office. She may be reached at 713.292.5622 or pwilliams@fisherphillips.com.

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