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Both the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration are operational and fully funded through Sept. 30, but the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is essentially shut down due to the government shutdown.
During a two-day shutdown in January 2018, OSHA’s staff was reduced to 372 employees out of nearly 2,000 and MSHA placed roughly half its employees on furlough, according to a memo dated Jan. 19, 2018, from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Solicitor. But both agencies are fully funded for the first nine months of 2019 under this year’s budget appropriation, according to the department.
Companies need to be aware that OSHA is not sitting on the sidelines during this government shutdown, and that “by essentially every measure OSHA is doing more enforcement than it did at the end of the Obama administration,” said Eric Conn, founding partner of Washington, D.C.- based law firm Conn Maciel Carey LLP.
However, the agency’s stepped-up enforcement efforts could change if an assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health is finally approved by Congress when the shutdown ends, he said. The stalled nomination of Scott Mugno has left a leadership void at OSHA, with the agency unable to embark on or advance major regulatory initiatives, according to experts.
At the CSB, which investigates chemical accidents at industrial facilities and makes recommendations to OSHA, about 95% of the agency’s staff is furloughed, and all current investigations have been suspended, said Thomas Zoeller, CSB’s senior advisor. The few remaining staffers are monitoring situations and would decide on what kind of deployment the agency could undertake if a serious incident occurs during the shutdown, he said.
“We’re just very hopeful that a resolution will be quickly made, and we can resume operations as soon as possible,” Mr. Zoeller said.
The National Flood Insurance Program received a reprieve when it was retroactively reauthorized last week as part of a resolution to reopen the federal government, but even the brief lapse highlighted the significant consequences for risk managers of the program’s expiration.