April 4, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Katie Tracy with the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) alerted me to a new report about the State of Maryland’s OSHA program (MOSH). The report describes problems the agency has retaining inspectors and failing to conduct an adequate number of inspections at Maryland worksites. The report was required by the state’s appropriations committee. Lawmakers withheld $250,000 in fiscal year 2018 funding for MOSH until Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing, & Regulation supplied the report.

CPR’s Tracy recaps the report this way:

“MOSH is struggling with significant turnover among health and safety inspectors, and this management challenge is compounded by resource shortfalls. Without enough inspectors, MOSH is failing to meet its inspection targets, leaving too many employers to police themselves and putting workers at risk.”

The lawmakers were particularly interested in matters related to staffing. They asked the agency about vacancies, the number of Spanish-speaking employees, and actions by the agency to attract and retain employees. If I were one of the requesting lawmakers, I’d be unsatisfied with MOSH’s responses. I call them skimpy, saying as little as possible.

“The organizational chart below outlines the current MOSH staff, vacant positions, and the hierarchy of the department. There are a total of 88 staff members in MOSH. There are a total of six Spanish-speaking staff members – two members of our outreach team, one industrial hygienist, one compliance officer, one office secretary at MOSH Hunt Valley, and one office secretary in a field office.”

But the organizational chart is mostly unreadable because of a small fuzzy font. I can’t tell from the org chart how many inspector positions make up the agency and the number of the positions that are vacant. Why be so evasive? The Democratic lawmakers suspect you need more resources to do the job. Man-up and tell them so.

The benchmark number of inspectors for MOSH is 54. It’s the number negotiated in 1985 by Maryland and federal OSHA. CPR’s analysis found that in 2016 MOSH had only 43 inspectors.

“You’d think when MOSH’s funder—the state legislature—asked if the agency could achieve better results for Maryland workers with additional resources, the agency would emphatically answer yes,” CPR’s Tracy told me.

It was indeed a softball question posed by the lawmakers, but MOSH evaded answering it. They also missed a big opportunity when the appropriators asked: “what is the metric used to determine the optimum number of health and safety inspectors.”

The agency responded with a cut-and-paste of that 1985 negotiated benchmark.  But nobody has ever suggested that is the optimum number of inspectors. It’s merely the number chosen that allows the state to meet the requirement to be “at least as effective” as federal OSHA. (And that’s a very low bar. By my calculation using data from the AFL-CIO’s 2017 Death on the Job report, nationwide federal OSHA only has about 1 inspectors for every 106,000 employees.)

MOSH should have swung for the fences with the lawmakers’ softball question about the optimum number of inspectors. The agency should have referred to the International Labour Organization’s recommendations for labor inspection staffing. For industrialized economies, the ILO recommends a ratio of 1 inspector for every 10,000 workers. MOSH’s current ratio is 1 per 54,000.

Katie Tracy has a particular stake in Maryland agencies because she lives in the state. We chatted about MOSH’s nebulous report:

“Despite MOSH’s acknowledgment that it’s failing to meet its enforcement goals and it suffers from understaffing, agency leadership seems content on remaining silent instead of asking for increased funding. It’s a shame that the agency doesn’t speak up because when the agency performs poorly, it ultimately hurts Maryland workers and lets scofflaw employers off the hook.”

I couldn’t agree more.

CPR’s Tracy and Matt Shudtz are urging the Maryland General Assembly to again require MOSH to submit a report to its appropriators. If lawmakers do so, MOSH will have a second chance to admit that it doesn’t have the resources it needs to maximize its effectiveness.

 

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