Commentary: Workplace safety funding is overdue

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Responsible employers in manufacturing or processing industries that carry potential hazards for workers want their plants to be safe. They do not shrink from meeting standards, even though playing by the rules, and by common sense, can be expensive. That worker on an assembly line, or in that poultry processing plant using sharp tools, is of value to a good company, and that value is respected.

But sadly, there are employers who don't play by the rules, who do put workers at risk by asking more of them than is safe, by exploiting them with excess workloads or endangering them with slick floors or dim lights or a conveyor belt that moves too quickly. For those companies, there is and has been the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with protecting the welfare of the American workforce.

Alas, OSHA has been starved for years, underfunded and thus short of inspectors. Incredibly, the number of OSHA federal compliance officers, those who see to it that the safety rules are obeyed, has actually dropped by 35 percent since 1980. No surprise, then, that OSHA agencies have inspected only about 1 percent of all workplaces each year.

The Charlotte Observer last year published a commendable series on the dangers in North Carolina's poultry plants and the pitifully inadequate inspections of them. It now reports that President Obama intends to bolster OSHA funding, increase the number of inspectors and inspections, and try to fulfill a pledge to make workers safer. State-run OSHA programs must take the cue to get the job done as well. (Federal inspectors oversee workplace safety in about half the states; some 24 states, including North Carolina, have their own programs. They are approved and monitored by federal OSHA, and get some federal funding.)

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.