Who says politics get involved in the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration?
Republicans in Indiana apparently do.
It started two years ago when the state AFL-CIO complained that there were problems in the way Indiana ran the industrial safety portion of OSHA's program. Under federal law, a state can control its own OSHA program as long as it meets certain federal standards and puts up half the money -- with Washington putting up the other half and monitoring how the whole thing works.
In December 1979, the Indiana congressional delegations, who kept track of the controversy, were shown a draft agreement between the federal and state OSHA people in which the inspection jobs were divided, with Indiana concentrating on health problems and the feds looking into industrial safety.
However, in April 1980, a month before last year's Indiana Democratic presidential primary, the Carter administration announced it would start a rulemaking action to withdraw approval of the Indiana OSHA plan. Among other things, the Washington OSHA organization sent more than 30 new federal people into Indiana, beefing up its staff so it could take over jurisdiction of both the health and safety programs from the state.
Carter won the primary handily and nothing much more was heard about the OSHA affair, although there were stories within the state that the earlier compromise was back being discussed between the federal and state groups.
Then, on Jan. 16, 1981, four days before President Reagan was inaugurated, OSHA struck again from Washington. It filed a formal notice of initiation of a withdrawal action against the state, using information developed by federal monitors prior to June 1979. Not surprisingly, the Republican members of the Indiana congressional delegation joined in a letter sharply protesting OSHAs decision. They sent a copy to the Reagan transition team.
On Feb. 6, Reagan froze all the last-minute Carter regulatory actions and for the moment halted OSHA's federal takeover of Indiana. Thereafter, the Indiana Republicans repeated their demand that the action be halted.
With next and perhaps final chapter in this tale was written in the March 27 Federal Register (page 19000), in a notice from the now-Reagan-controlled OSHA team. It described a "withdrawal of complaint to withdraw Indiana state plan," arguing that the data justifying the Carter action was almost two years old. "Review of the information collected subsequently" by the Reagan-appointed Labor Department officials, the notice says, found that "continuation of the withdrawal action is not warranted."
Two footnotes: OSHA last month removed the extra 30 employes sent to Indiana last year, and a new state AFL-CIO president has taken office and appears satisfied with the way Indiana's new commissioner of labor is handling the state OSHA program.