By The California Applicants’ Attorneys Association | March 4, 2024

The understaffing crisis at Cal-OSHA, as highlighted in this article by the Sacramento Bee, poses significant challenges for injured workers in California. The article suggests Cal-OSHA is currently facing difficulties that affect its ability to fulfill its legal mandate and mission. Severe delays in investigations and a persistent backlog of cases due to chronic understaffing has impacted the enforcement and implementation of workers’ compensation laws, potentially leaving some injured workers in California without timely resolution or compensation. Lawmakers’ concerns and calls for an independent audit indicate a broader issue that warrants a reevaluation of the state’s commitment to worker safety and the effectiveness of its regulatory framework.

Since 1966, the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association has been dedicated to assisting Californians injured on the job in their recovery and return to work. Our members proudly represent thousands of injured workers every year and advocate for the protection of California’s workforce.

To address the staffing shortage crisis at Cal-OSHA and improve workplace safety enforcement, California’s leadership could consider several measures:

1. Leadership: The Governor should promptly appoint a permanent Chief at Cal/OSHA with a clear commitment to leading a robust, fully-staffed, multi-lingual department. Fresh leadership is essential for implementing systemic changes and addressing the cultural and organizational challenges within Cal-OSHA.

2. Legislative Reforms: Consider exploring legislative reforms to enhance Cal-OSHA’s capabilities, streamline processes, and provide mechanisms for more effective enforcement of workplace safety standards. Conceptually expanding on the recently passed SB 27 (Durazo), which created an enforcement mechanism allowing UC workers to bring wage-theft complaints on behalf of non-union workers, could become a model to augment Cal-OSHA’s limited workforce.

3. Increase Funding: Allocate additional non-General Fund resources to Cal-OSHA to hire more personnel, including health and safety inspectors/investigators and HR personnel. The State is facing a tough financial situation, however, Cal-OSHA’s funding comes from sources other than the State’s General Fund.

4. Streamline Hiring Processes: Simplify and expedite the hiring process for Cal-OSHA personnel. Address challenges such as low salaries, strict minimum qualifications, and state bureaucratic hurdles to attract and retain qualified individuals.

5. Independent Audit: Conduct an independent audit of Cal-OSHA to assess its organizational structure, resource allocation, and operational efficiency. This could provide insights into areas that need improvement and guide strategic reforms.

6. Training and Education: Invest in training and education programs for Cal-OSHA personnel to enhance their skills and capabilities. This can contribute to more efficient case handling and proactive inspection practices.

By taking any of these actions, California’s leadership can work towards resolving the crisis at Cal-OSHA, reinforcing the state’s commitment to worker safety, and restoring the agency’s effectiveness in enforcing workplace standards.

-Andrew Russell, Communications Director California Applicants’ Attorneys Association

Read more about the understaffing crisis at Cal-OSHA from the Bee (login required)