As President Donald Trump pushes to restart the economy, the federal agency that’s supposed to protect employees from workplace hazards has been operating with historically low staffing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration had only 862 inspectors at the start of the year, the smallest number since 1975, according to a report by the pro-labor, nonprofit National Employment Law Project. The total was down from 952 in 2016 and a historic high of 1,469 in 1980.
“They cannot return people to work until they protect workers on the job, and they can’t protect workers on the job with voluntary guidelines,” the report’s author Deborah Berkowitz, who served as OSHA chief of staff under President Barack Obama, said in an interview.
“OSHA and the U.S. Department of Labor have been missing in action since day one” of the crisis, George Washington University public health professor David Michaels, who ran OSHA under Obama and wasn’t part of the Employment Law Project report, said in an email. “If Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia cannot lead the effort to stop the carnage and require employers to implement strong worker protections, it will be difficult to re-open the economy without making thousands of workers sick.”