• Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP

Federal OSHA Inspectors Increase in FY 2020

After hitting record low numbers of federal OSHA inspectors during 2019 - at 752, the agency had reached the lowest in the agency's 50 year history -- 2020 marked a rebound, with 790 compliance safety and health officers now on duty. The data came in response to a FOIA request by Bloomberg Law. By comparison, the agency's inspectorate reached 860 in FY 2014, following which OSHA was subject to a series of budget cutbacks. The peak number of inspectors was in 1980, a decade after the agency was created, when OSHA had 1,469 inspectors. About a third of OSHA's inspectors are industrial hygienists, who address such issues as silica, ergonomics, noise, and heat stress, while the remainder are safety officers and engineers.

Despite the inspector hiring spike for 2020, overall the agency conducted 35 percent fewer inspections than it did in 2019. COVID-19 impacted inspections by drawing resources to health care facilities and investigation of worker hazard and retaliation complaints. The data cover the period of October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020.

In 2019, the US House of Representatives noted in its FY 2020 Appropriations report for the Labor Department that, with current inspectors, OSHA could visit each workplace under its jurisdiction once every 165 years. In addition to federal OSHA enforcement resources, there are 22 states and several territories that administer their own OSHA enforcement agencies. Those state-plan states inspectors are not included in the Bloomberg data.

During his tenure, President Trump has repeatedly called for significant cutbacks in OSHA funding, although this did not occur due to passage of continuing resolutions in lieu of individual appropriations measures in recent years. It is expected that OSHA funding will increase under President-elect Biden, and President Obama's OSHA chief, Dr. David Michaels, was recently appointed to the Biden transition team to address workplace safety issues.

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