September 14, 2014

Iowa Federation of Labor leader says Iowa has too few OSHA inspectors

The leader of one of Iowa’s largest unions says the state doesn’t employ enough inspectors to check worksites for health and safety violations.

“Workplaces are kind of like highways, if you will, and if you don’t have enough state troopers, everybody might go a mile or two over the posted speed limit,” says Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “And what we have here in Iowa is too few people monitoring the health and safety rules.”

Sagar cites a 1989 a court ruling that declared 29 to be an adequate staffing level for OSHA inspectors for the state of Iowa.

“If you consider the fact that in the late ’80s there were about 70,000 workplaces and 1.1 million workers and today’s we’re nearly 100,000 workplaces and 1.5 million workers, that benchmark of ’89 would be too low,” Sagar says. “Regrettably what we have instead is approximately 21 workers. They’re not even meeting the court-required benchmarks.”

According to Sagar, it would take the current roster of state OSHA inspectors 180 years to inspect every Iowa workplace at least once.

“What we need is more people making sure that all the employers are complying with the rules,” Sagar says, “and making sure that the employers are aware of what the rules are.”

Last year 61 Iowans died on the job and Sagar says it’s time to press elected officials to make worker safety issues a higher priority. Sagar worked in the utility industry before rising through the ranks to become a union leader.

OSHA inspectors’ salaries are financed with a combination of state and federal tax dollars. Michale Mauro, the state’s labor commissioner, says federal budget cuts through the so-called “sequestration” have had an effect on staffing levels. The division is in the process of filling two vacancies that exist within the OSHA Enforcement team.