Adobe Stock / chatchai
Adobe Stock / chatchai

The number of workplace safety inspectors employed has decreased since 2016, leading to fewer in-depth investigations of on-the-job dangers, according to analysis of Labor Department records by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). The group argues that reduced staffing with OSHA indicates "the agency is being less proactive in enforcing the law and keeping workers safe," HuffPost reports.

Despite the number of OSHA inspections increasing in 2017 and 2018 from 2016, the NELP argues the number of inspections is a misleading indicator of how much enforcement is taking place.

In 2016, OSHA developed a new methodology for measuring enforcement, weighting investigations based on the amount of time and resources they require. The idea was to lend more credit to deeper inspections that have more impact. Using that metric, Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official and current workplace safety expert at NELP, said, the number of thorough workplace inspections has dropped notably.

According to the analysis, last fiscal year OSHA carried out a third of the number of inspections related to musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, when compared with 2016. It performed roughly half the number of inspections related to hazardous levels of heat, and a third of the probes related to chemical exposure.

OSHA does not release figures on how many workers die on the job at worksites it regulates. But it does release the number of investigations it performs due to fatalities and hospitalizations in a given year. That number fell between 2016 and 2017, to 837 from 890. But it appears to have spiked in 2018, up to 929, according to preliminary OSHA data that hasn’t been finalized yet.

The number of OSHA inspectors declined by 77 employees from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2019, according to the NELP report.

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