After trying for years to reduce the size of OSHA’s Susan Harwood Worker Training Grant program – only to have proposed cuts restored by Congress – the Bush Administration went one step further in its FY 2006 budget request, asking Congress to eliminate the $10.2 million program in its entirety.

“While we support OSHA’s efforts to broaden the voluntary endeavors of contractors to improve safety performance,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, “the agency should not forget the critical role it must play in stimulating such endeavors, especially when it comes to something so far removed from direct impact on company bottom lines as the development of industry-wide training programs. In this case, OSHA suggests its voluntary Alliance programs will sustain the agency’s training objectives, but that’s just not the way it really works.”

O’Sullivan cites the Roadway Safety Program, one of the most innovative and popular training programs ever produced under OSHA’s auspices. “With a Susan Harwood grant, the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund brought together key partners- the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) – and, together, created the Roadway Safety Program. Afterwards, OSHA suggested that the collaboration be formalized as an OSHA Alliance, and we agreed. But without the training grant, there’d be no Roadway Safety Program at all. OSHA’s grant program was the catalytic element for the whole collaboration.”

Overall, the Bush budget proposal for OSHA for FY 2006 is a small reduction from FY 2005, after inflation is factored in. Despite the claim of its news release that the proposal “emphasizes enforcement,” the enforcement budget is unchanged. Despite pledges in 2004 to pay more attention to the needs of Hispanic workers – whose rates of injury are steadily climbing – no money is budgeted that way. Despite the withdrawal of the ergonomic standard, no money is directed to reduce sprain and strain injuries.

One of the few programs to get an increase is the Voluntary Protection Program. Despite steady expansion of this and other voluntary programs which aim to improve safety without regulation, no studies yet demonstrate that they work, and the Government Accounting Office recommended no further expansion until they are evaluated.

“Despite OSHA’s obstinacy on this training issue, LIUNA will continue to work with the agency, trying to help ensure success in its mission to protect workers,” says O’Sullivan. “That said, we urge Congress to again override the Bush Administration by restoring full funding for the Susan Harwood Worker Training Grants.”