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Government shutdown may mean some hazards going unchecked

The law is clear. The federal government is supposed to keep those workers on the job who are deemed essential for protecting the lives and property of the people. That does not mean that the staffing of various monitoring agencies is being maintained at full capacity during the current partial shutdown of the government.

That is raising concerns in some quarters. According to the Center for Effective Government, the risks of workplace deaths and injuries due to unregulated hazards are rising daily.

Federal agencies across the board have done what they can to ensure that resources are assigned to address the most serious risks. However, there are still some gaps being noted.

At the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, only about 10 percent of the 2,200 workers are on the job. Officials say only complaints with the highest risk of death or harm are being responded to.

Labor leaders indicate that basic, preventive checks in many industries aren't happening. Some have suggested that the shutdown may have been a factor in allowing conditions that resulted in the deaths of three coal miners in three separate accidents over this past weekend.

On the food front, consumer advocates say food safety efforts are being compromised because the Food and Drug Administration has scaled back inspections of product coming in from foreign countries.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says claims are being paid, but federal inspections of nursing home facilities to ensure they're meeting safety and medical care standards are on hold.

The teams of investigators who respond to major highway and airway crashes have had to be scaled back, too. The head of a Washington-based auto safety group warns that with fewer on-site investigations, evidence that could be critical in determining causes could be lost.

All agree that the longer the shutdown continues, the worse things will get.

Source:, "Furloughed Inspectors Leave Gaps in Oversight of Mines to Nukes," Jim Snyder, Brian Wingfield and Mark Drajem, Bloomberg, Oct. 9, 2013 

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