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Federal shutdown halts routine OSHA workplace safety inspections

Certain government functions will be continuing during the government shutdown, but basically only those functions that fit into three categories: 1) those that don’t rely on annual funding through the Congressional budgeting process, but have ongoing funding, such as Social Security; 2) constitutionally required functions; and 3) those involving emergency work necessary to protect human life or government property.

Shutdown impact on workplace safety

Unfortunately, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies responsible for protecting worker safety aren’t exempt from the shutdown. OSHA has been forced to furlough the vast majority of its employees. Only 230 out of OSHA’s usual 2,235 workers -- a little more than 10 percent -- will remain on the job during the shutdown.

What that means for workers is that OSHA will not be performing its routine workplace inspections for health and safety violations. They will only be able to respond to reports of workplace accidents or hazards that could pose an imminent threat of injury or death. The workforce at the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been slashed, as well, but since many mine safety inspections are indispensable to keeping mines operating safely, about 41 percent of that agency’s workers will remain on the job.

However, here in North Carolina we also have the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Division, a state-level agency that performs many of the same functions as OSHA. The OSH Division typically performs some 5,500 safety and health inspections of North Carolina workplaces every year, and it won’t be directly impacted by the shutdown. It may, however, experience increased demand for assistance with OSHA unavailable.

Shutdown impact on workers’ compensation

There is some good news about workers’ compensation. Even under the shutdown, 82 percent of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, the agency that processes workers’ comp claims for most federal workers, will still be on the job. Their salaries don’t depend on annual appropriations.

If you have a workers’ comp claim that has already been approved, you don’t need to worry about receiving your benefits on schedule. New claims for workers’ comp are also being processed, because most of the workers who process workers’ comp claims are state employees.

The only shutdown-related delay expected in the workers’ comp claims process is if you’re waiting for an appeals hearing before a federal administrative law judge or a federal court.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety magazine, “Government Shutdown to Halt Workplace Safety Investigations,” Oct. 2, 2013

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