Lawmakers introduce measure to strengthen OSH Act

The fact that the top job at OSHA remains unfilled has not deterred house Democrats from seeking to amend the act that establishes job safety laws in the U.S.

Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce have reintroduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act, legislation they say would strengthen and modernize the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. Similar legislation has been proposed in the past but has not been successful.

The measure was introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut during the week marked by the seven-year anniversary of the 2010 Kleen Energy Plant explosion in Middletown, Connecticut. Six workers were killed and dozens more were injured in that catastrophe. Courtney said that incidents like Middletown and a deadly Texas fertilizer plant explosion in 2013 demonstrate that “…the benefits of ensuring a safe and healthy workplace are not just confined to the facility’s property—local communities also have a major stake in the safety of these workplaces.”

Supporters say the proposed bill would give OSHA the tools to ensure that employers promptly correct hazardous working conditions, protect workers from retaliation when they blow the whistle on unsafe working conditions, and hold employers accountable for violations that cause death or serious injury to workers.

Here’s how proposed legislation could change OSHA

The Protecting America’s Workers Act would:

  • Expand OSHA coverage to municipal workers in the 25 states covered by federal OSHA.
  • Require that employers correct hazardous conditions while a citation for a serious, willful, or repeat violation is being contested.
  • Improve whistleblower protection.
  • Update obsolete consensus standards incorporated into the OSH Act in 1970.
  • Provide authority for increased civil monetary penalties for willful and serious violations that cause death or serious injury.
  • Authorize felony penalties against employers who knowingly commit OSHA violations that result in death or serious injury and extend penalties to corporate officers and directors. Currently, criminal penalties are considered misdemeanors.
  • Require OSHA to investigate all cases of workplace death and serious injury.
  • Give families of workers killed on the job the right to meet with OSHA investigators, receive copies of citations, and have the chance to make a statement before settlement negotiations take place.
  • Allow the Secretary of Labor concurrent enforcement authority in states where the state plan fails to meet minimum requirements.

BLR - February 20, 2017