Federal labor officials want to suspend Hawaii’s authority over its workplace safety program, saying the state’s enforcement fails to meet even minimum expectations.
If Hawaii will not give up its authority, federal officials will seek legal action to revoke the state’s power to oversee workers’ safety, according to David Michaels, the federal agency’s assistant secretary for occupational safety and health.
Interim state Labor Director Pearl Iboshi told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday that her department isn’t planning to relinquish any part of its authority to federal officials.
The number of labor inspections performed in Hawaii has decreased from about 4,000 in 1984, when the state assumed the authority to oversee workers’ safety, to 426 in 2009, Michaels said. In a letter last week to Gov. Linda Lingle, he said enforcement staffing in Hawaii has been reduced to 12 from 27 positions in Hawaii, well below a court-mandated compliance agreement of 18.
In its fiscal 2010 budget, the state reduced costs for the program, failing to use 50 percent of its $1.6 million federal grant, he said. The state and the federal government split the cost of enforcement and consultation of the worker safety program. Some states contribute more than 50 percent to the program, but not Hawaii, Michaels said.
“As a result of these funding problems, the state enforcement program is seriously understaffed and unable to meet even the minimum expectations of an effective state plan,” Michaels said.
Iboshi acknowledged the number of inspectors has decreased over the past few years, but said there has not been a noticeable increase in workplace injuries. “In terms of accidents, we’ve been pretty good,” she said.
Iboshi said the state has been unable to fill some vacant positions because the starting salary for a safety inspector is less than that of a similar position in the private sector. She said the state has been in contact with the federal regional labor administrator as her department rebuilds the inspection staff.
“We will work with them to have them approve our plan going forward and make sure that they recognize the steps we’re taking to regain compliance with standards,” she said.
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