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How do state and federal workplace safety agencies differ?

California readers may be aware that there is a state agency devoted to job safety and health programs, called the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA. However, there may be confusion about the distinction between CAL/OSHA and its federal counterpart, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Pursuant to Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, states are authorized to develop their own workplace safety and health programs. States with an OSHA-approved plan can receive funds totaling up to 50 percent of their plan’s operating costs. However, those state agencies will remain subject to the monitoring of OSHA officials.

Yet despite that federal oversight, a recently retired Cal/OSHA official believes more needs to be done. In fact, he published a report and critique of the agency that prompted the advocacy group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, to file an official complaint with OSHA.

Although OSHA is still investigating the matter, the complaint makes serious allegations about understaffing. According to the retired official’s report, Cal/OSHA’s staff in 2013 comprised only 170 field inspectors. The report claims that number is inadequate, amounting to one field inspector for every 109,000 workers. The report also suggests that the state agency may have a pro-employer bias.

With proper staffing and enforcement authority, an individual with workplace safety concerns or who had suffered an on-the-job injury otherwise might have contacted a Cal/OSHA official. However, given the allegations in the retired official’s report, a better starting point might be a workers’ compensation attorney. An attorney can strive to help a worker get the care and financial support that he or she deserves after a workplace accident. 

Source: Fair Warning, “Labor Activist Who Chose to Work Within the System Is Outsider Once More, and Again Crusading for Job,” Jane Kay, July 24, 2014

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