ARTICLE
2 October 2023

Federal Government Shutdown Will Significantly Impact United States Department Of Labor Enforcement Activities, OSHA Cases

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Seyfarth Shaw LLP

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The impending federal government shutdown will suspend many enforcement and consultation functions of the United States Department of Labor, including OSHA.
United States Employment and HR
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Seyfarth Synopsis: The impending federal government shutdown will suspend many enforcement and consultation functions of the United States Department of Labor, including OSHA.

A federal government shutdown is looming. If Congress does not approve a stop-gap funding deal by midnight Sunday, October 1, 2023, the federal government will go unfunded and will be shut down at 12:01 a.m. EST. Under federal law, a failure to fund the government will suspend nonessential government activities, including certain functions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA). The United States Department of Labor ("USDOL") has developed a contingency plan, as have other government agencies, describing in detail which operations will be maintained and which will be suspended. USDOL's plan covers OSHA.

USDOL's contingency plan will furlough about 43% of OSHA staff. All signs point to furloughs covering support operations and not compliance officers.

According to the USDOL contingency plan, the agency will continue to inspect:
Imminent dangers;

  1. Workplace fatalities and catastrophes;
  2. Serious safety and health complaints; and
  3. Follow-ups relating to abatement and high gravity serious violations.

According to our sources, a Thursday internal OSHA meeting indicated that OSHA will continue to issue Serious OSHA citations and conduct informal conferences to resolve those citations. While OSHA will investigate fatality/catastrophe events and high hazard complaints, other inspections for more minor hazards will be postponed.

Per the contingency plan, the Agency will discontinue all:

  1. Compliance assistance;
  2. Outreach programs;
  3. Training classes;
  4. Technical assistance;
  5. Rulemaking, including deregulation efforts;
  6. Whistleblower protection activities not described above; and
  7. Financial and other administrative efforts.

According to OSHA chief Doug Parker when he appeared before the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee on Wednesday, OSHA would not be doing "proactive" inspections, likely referring to the programmed inspections that constitute about 44% of OSHA's inspection activity. According to Mr. Parker, the new initiative on respirable crystalline silica announced this week, as discussed in our prior blog, would be tabled during the shutdown.

While OSHA maintains a fair amount of activity under USDOL's contingency plan, other Department agencies will feel greater impacts. For example, the Wage and Hour Division expects to furlough 1,531 of its 1,538 employees, leaving seven workers to "protect life and property" during any shutdown. Despite these reductions in enforcement personnel, employers must continue to comply with applicable laws – shutdowns do not represent a license to cut corners or relax vigilance, particularly regarding workplace safety and health.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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