According to data obtained by NBC News through the Freedom of Information Act, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lost 40 workplace safety inspectors and hired none since the Donald Trump administration took office (data valid as of October 2). The 40 lost inspectors constituted 4 percent of OSHA's inspector force, which dipped below 1,000 in early October. OSHA's total number of workers dipped below 2,000 by the end of September, losing 116 employees.
The Trump administration has held firm to its government-wide hiring freeze instituted shortly after Trump's inauguration, despite OSHA's stated need for more manpower. David Michaels, head of OSHA under the Obama administration, expressed his concern for worker safety as a result of the loss of safety inspectors. "It means there's greater pressure to quickly reach a settlement with the employer, which often means reduced fines," he said. "The lack of new inspectors makes OSHA invisible. If employers don’t think OSHA will come, workers are much more likely to be hurt."
Despite the decrease in staff and inspector numbers, OSHA conducted a few hundred more inspections in 2017 than in 2016 - the first increase in five years. However, some regions of the US experienced a sharp decrease in inspections. For example, Mississippi (which has one of the country’s highest worker fatality and injury rates) had 26% fewer inspections in 2017 than in 2016; 10 of the 40 lost inspectors were from the Southeast regional office which covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.
Industry groups claim they have noticed neither a shift in OSHA's enforcement of workplace safety and health regulations, nor a shift in workplace safety culture. Said Eric Mittenthal of the North American Meat Institute, "Safety programs operate continuously regardless of the frequency of OSHA inspections." Read more here.