Why do OSHA Grants Smell Political?

Sept. 14, 2012
Logistics jobs aren’t for sissies—or the accident prone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatalities in transportation and material moving occupations were higher by 5 percent in 2010 than the previous year and accounted for about a quarter ...

Logistics jobs aren’t for sissies—or the accident prone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatalities in transportation and material moving occupations were higher by 5 percent in 2010 than the previous year and accounted for about a quarter of all occupational fatalities. Truck drivers were among those with the highest number of fatal work injuries within the transportation and material moving group, rising from 647 in 2009 to 683 in 2010—an increase of 6 percent.

After learning this when touring the OSHA website recently, I also visited the news section of the site and learned that OSHA awarded $10.7 million through its Susan Harwood Training Grant Program to 72 nonprofit organizations. The intention is “to provide training and education for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces.” Target trainees include small-business employers and underserved low-literacy workers in high-hazard industries.

That sounds like a worthy use of millions of our tax dollars, I thought after reading the announcement. And speaking as someone who regularly hears about the crazy things operators do with trucks, both on and off-road, I hope those dollars are used wisely. But upon taking a closer look at the grantees and how they’ll use the money my optimism ebbed away little by little. At first I thought, I wish a larger chunk of the grant were going to logistics applications. Looking through the list of awards, less than 10%, or about $850,000 of the grant money, is going to five organizations for training workers for what seem like logistics-related operations. But if you read more carefully, they seem pretty loosey-goosey about how the money will be spent:

• Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, was awarded $171,000 to offer four to 15 hours of health and safety training to workers and employers in light manufacturing, warehousing and temporary staffing agencies in New Jersey. Training topics will include OSHA rights for workers, slips and falls, forklift safety, lock-out/tag-out, chemical exposures and reading MSDSs. Training and materials will be provided in English and Spanish.

• Timber Products Manufacturers, Inc. got $181,000 to provide training on sawmill safety, including forklift safety, loading and offloading, secure load methods and ergonomics.

• CASA de Maryland, Inc. received $181,390 to provide health and safety training to workers in the construction, building and ground maintenance, and warehouse industries. Training will target non-English speaking/limited English proficient, non-literate and low-literacy workers on heat and cold exposure hazards.

• Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice received $152,000 will provide health and safety training to warehouse workers with limited English competencies and low literacy levels on heat stress, ergonomics, and proper handling of heavy equipment and materials.

• The New Jersey State AFL-CIO got $164,628 to provide training in the warehousing and supermarket sectors covering ergonomics, slips and falls, sharps safety, and safety and health committees.

What bothers me is a lot of the information they’re covering in these training programs involves content they could get off the OSHA website for free. So how will the money be spent--specifically? On trainers? On multi-media equipment? On field trips? The OSHA announcement doesn’t say. What it does say is that the programs receiving grants are “designed to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths by providing the knowledge and tools that workers and employers need to identify and correct workplace safety and health hazards.”

Section 25 of the OSHA Act does say all grants are subject to audit, but will these grants be gauged for their effectiveness? Will taxpayers get an accounting? Did OSHA ever gauge the effectiveness of previous grantees?

And take another look at those grantees. When I did a bit more web searching my optimism dissipated a bit more. I found that CASA de Maryland was the subject of a multi-year investigation by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), which subsequently called it “an illegal alien advocacy organization” that has “egregiously violated its tax exempt status by engaging in electioneering, political and campaign activities.” IRLI filed a complaint with the IRS and Maryland Comptroller, seeking to expose illegal activities and strip the organization of its 501c3 tax exempt status.

And Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice has ties to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—better known as ACORN.

And the New Jersey AFL-CIO? I won’t bother analyzing that one.

If the money flowing to these organizations is used to make workers better lift truck and tractor-trailer truck drivers, I’ll be happy to have contributed to this effort as a tax payer. However, I can’t ignore the faint aroma that emanates from the list of grant recipients. I don’t want to turn this blog into a political fishing trip, but if something looks like a fish and swims like a fish and smells like a fish…

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