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The September 13 news conference that announced HIOSH's re-assumption of responsibility over regulating Hawaii’s manufacturing industries. Courtesy Abercrombie Administration.

Federal budget woes could hurt the HIOSH Division’s recent progress

OSHA turns manufacturing back over to the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division just as Federal funding is again in jeopardy

Will Caron

A year after the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Hawaii State Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (DLIR) entered into an Operational Status Agreement (OSA) to help strengthen DLIR’s weakened Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH),  HIOSH will be allowed to re-assume responsibility for regulating Hawaii’s manufacturing industries.

OSA suspended HIOSH’s enforcement authority in specific industries that OSHA assumed responsibility over until the State was able to be “at least as effective” as OSHA, according to the agreement, which can be downloaded from the link at the top left. Over the next three years, OSA stipulates that HIOSH will assume regulatory responsibility over more and more industries in the private sector.

In 2009, a year in which many state agencies were hit especially hard with necessary reductions-in-force due to the sudden drop in Federal funding during the recession, HIOSH lost 32 of its 51 positions. 16 of those lost positions contributed to meeting the necessary OSHA staffing requirements. That same year, HIOSH was only able to complete 426 inspections of its goal of 835 inspections; a dismal 51 percent.

In 2010, OSHA released a report that “heavily criticized” HIOSH, according to DLIR’s 2012 report. According to the report, “at stake were over $2 million in federal funds and an additional $800,000 in program revenue.” The division has been slowly building itself back to OSHA-required levels ever since.

“One of my first and ongoing priorities in the department has been the restoration of HIOSH,” said DLIR Director Dwight Takamine, who took over the Department in 2010 under the Abercrombie Administration. “The return of the manufacturing sector to our jurisdiction recognizes that we are hitting those milestones necessary to re-establish meaningful safety and health regulation.”

Last month, OSHA and HIOSH investigators issued a notice of citation and penalty to Unicold Corporation after February inspections of the company’s Ualena Street warehouse found 63 different health and safety violations, most of which were either serious or willful. OSHA is proposing $251,330 total in fines.

The progress may be short-lived though. As Civil Beat’s Alia Wong recently reported, the state DOE is bracing for the budgetary impacts of sequestration, the looming debt ceiling and the possible Federal Government shutdown. The DOE isn’t the only state agency that could once again lose the ground its made recently through another sudden drop in Federal funding.

HIOSH, according to the DLIR 2012 report, receives 50 percent of its Compliance Inspections and Investigations funding and 90 percent of its Consultations and On-site Training funding from the Feds. It’s unclear at this point to what extent the problems with the Federal budget will affect HIOSH, but if 2009 was any indication it could be a significant set-back to HIOSH’s progress with OSA.

During the newly-formed Sequestration Impact Response Team’s (SIRT) initial July 12 meeting, DLIR did have a representative present (Audrey Hidano), but does not appear to have made any contributions during the meeting or to have been a primary concern.

Both the OSA and SIRT’s July 12 meeting minutes are available for download above.