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Reps propose bills to protect contract workers (5/25)

May 25, 2007
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Two U.S. Congressmen from Texas are bringing the debate on workplace safety and the status of contract employees to Capitol Hill.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) and U.S. Rep. Al Green (D-Houston) introduced a pair of bills Monday that would attempt to put contract workers — like the 14 who lost their lives in the 2005 BP refinery explosion — on equal footing with regular employees on issues of workplace safety, according to a report in the Baytown (Texas) Sun.

One of the bills, from Al Green, would saddle business owners with criminal liability for “willful safety standard violations” that result in the death of a contract employee. It would do so by amending the Occupational Safety and Health Act to include contract employees in a passage dealing with other employees.

“We want to show employers that you can’t factor the death of employees into your bottom line,” Green said. “Money alone is not a proper sanction. The penalty should be criminal and it should include jail time.”

Gene Green’s bill would require employers to report contract workers’ injuries in the same way they report their own injuries. The deaths of the 14 workers who were in portable trailers near the blast reportedly did not count against the workplace safety ratings of the BP refinery in Texas City. That bill would also task OSHA with doing more thorough, frequent inspections using better-trained personnel.

The bills come on the heels of a report in March by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that faulted both BP and OSHA, saying BP’s budget cuts and a “broke safety culture” led to the conditions causing the explosion and the subsequent deaths. It said OSHA was too focused on personal injuries at the expense of systemic dangers, according to the Sun.

Gene Green said he did not know about the likelihood of passage for the bills, but said they would most likely be included with a larger package on workplace and labor issues.

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