SACRAMENTO — Worker safety law enforcement fell off dramatically in the first six months of 1987 after Gov. George Deukmejian announced he would eliminate state funding for it and the federal government prepared to assume the responsibility for the program, according to a state audit released Thursday.
The audit, prepared for state Controller Gray Davis, reported a 21% decrease in workplace safety inspections, a 29% decrease in citations issued for violations, and a 45% decrease in penalties assessed between Jan. 1 and June 30.
"Penalties are clearly a deterrent to unsafe workplace conditions," Davis said. "The presumption is the more enforcement, the more worker safety."
Asked for comment, Ron Rinaldi, state director of industrial relations, said the report was "unsubstantiated . . . political . . . and it's fairly obvious to me that Mr. Davis is running for governor."
Rinaldi added: "I believe the federal government will continue to do a good job of protecting worker safety."
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor in San Francisco, Steve Brown, assistant regional director for public affairs, said he will have no comment on the report until it could be reviewed.
Deukmejian first announced plans to abolish Cal/OSHA in January, effective July 1. The governor said this would save the state $8 million annually without any loss of protection for workers.
Davis said the audit showed "serious mismanagement and ineffective planning" by the Department of Industrial Relations cost the state $3.7 million in lost penalty revenue and federal reimbursement.
He added that actual state savings from the transfer to federal control would be less than $660,000 through the 1987-88 fiscal year, plus an estimated $3.4 million annually thereafter.
Other critics of the governor's plan previously argued that the state's worker safety program was much stronger than the federal one and went to court to fight its abolishment.
A federal judge earlier this month issued a temporary restraining order barring the federal government from assuming total jurisdiction over California's 9.5 million private sector workers. Meanwhile, Cal/OSHA functions are being gradually phased out, except that the agency will continue to enforce worker safety laws for public employees.
'Bad Deal for Everyone'
"The transfer is a bad deal for everyone," Davis said. "The Administration has eliminated the finest worker safety program in the nation at half the cost savings they projected. The state has lost millions of dollars to buy weaker safety enforcement."
The controller recommended the Legislature conduct an in-depth study to determine the precise figures related to the transfer of worker safety jurisdiction.
He also called for Cal/OSHA to continue as a consultant to the federal government on worker safety matters, charging fees that would help replace some of the lost revenue.
Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne), chairman of the Labor Committee, joined Davis at a Capitol press conference, saying: "The controller's audit of the Administration's mishandling of Cal/OSHA is proof positive of what we have been saying all along.
"This senseless destruction of the finest worker safety and health program in the nation is going to result in needless deaths and injuries."