The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA) has laid off 10 employees so far this year, including longtime labor liaison David Sparks.
The agency — which inspects workplaces to make sure they’re safe — gets three quarters of its funding from a 4 percent tax on employers’ workers compensation premiums. That means Oregon OSHA’s budget is very sensitive to employment levels, especially in hazardous occupations like construction, which have higher workers’ comp premiums. In this recession, revenues from the workers’ comp assessment have declined as much as one-third.
No field inspectors have been laid off, however, though one in six inspector positions is vacant and unfilled. Total staff at Oregon OSHA is now about 180. The layoffs took place in spring, summer, and in October, and included three managers, four safety trainers, an office manager, receptionist, and analyst.
Sparks, 64, was one of the managers laid off, after more than 25 years at Oregon OSHA. Sparks was at one time a union business rep for Teamsters Local 670, under Teamster leader L.B. Day. After his October layoff, Sparks began a new job as manager at the Oregon Health Licensing Agency. His Oregon OSHA responsibilities were divided among remaining managers, including Oregon OSHA Director Michael Wood.
Oregon OSHA spokesperson Melanie Mesaros said the agency is striving to maintain effectiveness despite the layoffs. There are fewer field inspectors — but also fewer workplaces to inspect — especially in high-hazard jobs like construction, logging, and manufacturing. To make up for having fewer safety trainers, the agency is offering more safety classes online.
The Oregon OSHA layoffs are part of a larger reduction of force throughout state government. Mesaros said the Department of Consumer & Business Services, of which Oregon OSHA is a part, has had 65 layoffs so far this year.