Funding and staffing shortages in Indiana's Occupational Safety and Health program have been serious enough that they raise concerns about the agency's ability to enforce workplace safety standards, according to a federal audit.

The audit released by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration last week found that during the 2009 fiscal year the state agency had 23 of 47 safety positions filled, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported Monday. The state Department of Labor that includes the OSHA program has since had its funding reduced 10 percent by budget cuts.

Indiana's OSHA program has long had funding troubles and has seen its budget increase less than 1 percent a year over the past two decades, the report said.

"The continuing lack of state funding support and proper infrastructure is also of concern," the report said. "Increased federal oversight and technical assistance may be needed to improve Indiana's performance."

Overall, the federal audit, covering the year ending Sept. 30, 2009, made 45 recommendations, the majority of which involved record keeping and documentation, as well as use of federal management reports.

State labor Commissioner Lori Torres wrote in a response to the audit that the department has identified areas for improvement, including follow-up inspection scheduling, construction inspection targeting and additional whistle-blower training programs.

"We believe we have been marching in the right direction, and that we will continue to deliver the type of service that our Indiana workers and their families have a right to expect," she said.

Torres defended the OSHA program, saying it has increased its number of inspections and reduced the number of injuries while holding the line on spending.

"Little credit was given in the report for the tremendous improvement shown in the Indiana program" she wrote.

In fiscal 2009, the Indiana agency reported 123 fatalities resulting from injuries suffered on the job, the lowest number since the state began tracking workplace deaths in 1991, and 20 fewer than the previous fiscal year.

Indiana issued 2,614 citations for violations during the year, with more than half classified as serious. The average fine for a serious penalty in Indiana was $1,271, slightly lower than the national average of $1,335.

Among other findings in the federal report:

— In two cases of fatalities, no follow-up inspections were conducted to ensure the violations had been abated.

— Victims' families are notified by letter of the initiation of an investigation and of its findings. The letters are not maintained in the case file, and it does not appear that copies of citations are provided to the families.

— Reasons for penalty reductions were not documented. The state offers a 30 percent penalty reduction if a company agrees to additional training.

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