The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has filed a complaint with federal OSHA to call attention to California OSHA’s diminished staffing ranks.

Citing an analysis by former Cal/OSHA senior executive Garrett Brown, the group asserts that Cal/OSHA has fallen below the minimum staffing level necessary to receive federal funding. At the end of 2013, Cal/OSHA had 170 inspectors to enforce safety standards for the state’s 18.6 million workers, according to Brown’s analysis. By contrast, the state had 253 fish and game wardens.

Cal/OSHA operates on user fees and a federal OSHA grant that pays half of the state agency’s costs. However, Brown’s analysis concludes that Cal/OSHA is not meeting benchmarks for receiving federal funding, such as responding to worker complaints in a timely fashion and conducting follow-up inspections of serious violations.  

“California likes to pride itself as a national leader in many areas, but its workers are among the least protected in the country,” asserted PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

Brown’s report points out that Cal/OSHA has fewer inspectors than it did 25 years ago, although the state’s workforce is substantially larger now. With a ratio of one inspector to 109,000 workers, Cal/OSHA has one of the worst inspector-to-worker ratios in the country, according to Brown’s report. Federal OSHA’s ratio is one inspector to 66,000 workers.  

Cal/OSHA’s staffing woes are not for lack of funding, according to Brown’s analysis, which notes that California’s main fund for occupational safety and health has registered annual surpluses of over $20 million for the past three years.

PEER, however, also points a finger at federal OSHA for the decline in Cal/OSHA’s staffing ranks.

In its last audit, OSHA found that more than 30 inspector positions promised in California’s grant application had disappeared but the federal agency took no action,” Ruch asserted. “Federal OSHA is supposed to make sure the state complies with federal benchmarks and standards, but it appears to have confused oversight with overlook.”