Kansas Businesses Support State Takeover of OSHA Enforcement

January 27, 2015

A proposal that the state take over enforcement of workplace safety rules from the federal government seems unlikely to pass this year but still has some support in the Kansas House.

Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee pulled back from the idea after they were told this week that it couldn’t be used to reduce the number of regulations. But some House members said they would still consider it because the state’s business community strongly supports it, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The Kansas Department of Labor was asked last year to study the idea of the state taking over workplace safety enforcement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Both House and Senate commerce committees heard a report this week about the proposal.

Brad Burke, chief attorney for the Labor Department, said Kansas would have to adopt regulations and enforcement policies at least as strict as the federal rules.

“They’ll look at how many fines are being assessed, whether or not fine dollars drop, the number of inspections,” Burke said. “So basically what would happen is OSHA would need to be convinced we’re going to do at least as intensive of a review as they do, if not better.”

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said that would make it pointless for the state to take over OSHA enforcement.

“It was my understanding that one of the reasons we were very interested in this bill is so that the state could have a lot more flexibility as to when they are in disagreement with some of the federal requirements,” Pilcher-Cook said.

OSHA statistics show that the federal agency found 63 percent of the 701 Kansas work sites it inspected in 2013 did not comply with federal regulations. Of those, 84 percent were cited for “serious, willful or repeat violations.”

There were 3.7 work-related nonfatal illnesses and injuries per 100 full-time employees in 2013 and 54 work-related deaths, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Fines from those enforcement actions totaled nearly $2.3 million.

The Kansas Department of Labor report also said it would cost about $3.2 million a year annually to adopt and administer a state OSHA plan.

The state’s budget deficit probably precludes the idea for this year, even though the federal government would pay half the cost, committee chairwoman Sen. Julia Lynn said.

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