California’s workplace safety department is starved for inspectors even as it sits on tens of millions of dollars in cash, according to a complaint that will be filed Tuesday against the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Cal-OSHA handles workplace inspections and related safety tasks on behalf of its federal counterpart, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It receives half of its funding from a federal grant and the other half from employer fees.
A spokeswoman for the public employees group couldn’t be reached Tuesday afternoon, but its complaint letter dated for Tuesday cites a report by Garrett Brown, a 20-year Cal-OSHA employee who retired last December as a special assistant to the administration’s chief. Among the allegations:
Cal-OSHA’s contingent of 170 workplace health and safety inspectors is down about 10 percent from the number of Cal-OSHA inspectors Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown inherited in 2011 from Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The staffing decline has come while the main fund feeding the department -- the Occupational Health and Safety Fund -- has kept a balance of more than $20 million for the last three years.
Staffing shortages have forced Cal-OSHA to cut back on complaint investigations of toxic-chemical exposures and other dangerous workplaces where low-wage employees – often immigrant and non-union workers – are least likely to file complaints. Follow-up inspections have also lagged.
The excess funds in this case, are used for “cash flow purposes,” according to the statement. Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 budget proposal includes an extra $3.3 million for 26 Cal-OSHA positions, plus a fee on some refineries to pay for another 15 positions.
When all employees dedicated to occupational health and safety are counted, according to the statement, Cal-OSHA has 182 inspectors in its enforcement unit and another 132 employees who work on compliance collaboration and enforcement with other government agencies.