Former top Cal/OSHA official claims agency funds misspent or unspent

Garrett Brown worked at Cal/OSHA for 20 years, 17 of them as a field inspector.
Garrett Brown worked at Cal/OSHA for 20 years, 17 of them as a field inspector.
Photo courtesy of Garrett Brown

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A former senior official with California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) filed a whistleblower complaint Tuesday claiming the department overseeing the agency is misusing state and federal funds, possibly illegally. 

Garrett Brown, former special assistant to the head of Cal/OSHA, filed the complaint with the California State Auditor, asking for a forensic audit of how the Department of Industrial Relations, the state agency that oversees Cal-OSHA , managed funds meant for the worker protection agency. 

Brown writes that he has "deep concern about improper, possibly illegal, diversion by the Department of Industrial Relations  (DIR) of federal and state funds" he claims are supposed to go to Cal-OSHA but are instead going to pay for other things, such as rent on empty office space.

The complaint alleges that millions of dollars in state money meant to fund Cal-OSHA workers are sitting idle and not being allocated to the agency. As an example, it cites $26 million sitting "untapped" in the Elevator Safety Fund while Cal-OSHA endures staff reductions and budget cuts.  Brown suggests that DIR’s refusal to spend those funds is putting workers’ safety at risk.

Thirty-five percent of the state’s elevator permits have expired and some equipment has not been inspected, according to the complaint.  It also contends that DIR is failing to fully use $5.4 million in new oil refinery fees intended to protect refinery workers and surrounding communities.

Brown says he is asking the state auditor to investigate the DIR because it has not been transparent when it comes to fiscal matters. "Only trained accountants familiar with state operations and procedures will be able to penetrate what has been an opaque 'black box'" of Cal/OSHA finances under DIR, he argues in the complaint. 

DIR spokesman Peter Melton declined to comment on Brown's allegations. The state auditor's office did not return calls seeking comment. 

Brown retired in January after a 20-year career with Cal-OSHA, 17 of them as a safety engineer.  In February Brown claimed in a twenty-page report that Cal-OSHA is failing to protect California’s workers because of a "starvation diet" that is causing severe understaffing.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a whistleblower group Brown is associated with, filed a complaint based on his report with the US Department of Labor asking it to sanction Cal-OSHA for allegedly failing to meet worker protection standards.

Department of Labor spokesman Jesse Lawder said his agency is looking into PEER's complaint.