House and Senate Democrats join for sweeping OSHA reform bill (6/30)
June 30, 2010
Increased OSHA fines and criminal penalties are tacked on to the end of 100 pages of draft legislation primarily concerned with reforming the Mine Safety and Health Act, now being finalized by Democrats in Congress.
Similar OSHA reforms written into the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) have gone nowhere on Capitol Hill. This MSHA reform bill with OSHA measures riding piggyback represent Congressional Democrats’ most serious stab at strengthening occupational safety and health laws since President Obama was elected in 2008. How far this bill actually proceeds is anything but clear. Passage in the House, where Dems are a significant majority, is safer to predict than Senate action, where the real fight will erupt, if the meausre reaches the floor.
“We are determined to put sharper teeth in our workplace safety laws and to step up federal enforcement,” Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health , Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in a statement about the legislation.
“Mine operators who callously and repeatedly put their workers in danger must be held accountable,” Representative George Miller, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement. Miller and Harkin lead committees that monitor mine safety, and plan to introduce the proposed legislation.
“We have seen too many accidents over the last few months in workplaces across the country,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). “Between recent mine disasters and similar tragedies in other industries, it has become clear that Congress needs to act to strengthen protections provided by both MSHA and OSHA.
Senate Republicans faulted the proposal for adding power to OSHA.
The measure “affects every business in this country and only amplifies the adversarial role of OSHA and MSHA, without increasing safety,” Republican Senators Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Johnny Isakson of Georgia said in a joint statement.
In the final section of the draft bill, “Guaranteeing Basic Protections in All Other Workplaces,” Democrats summarize the OSHA reforms: “To ensure that all workplaces have basic protections, whistleblower protections would be strengthened, criminal and civil penalties would be increased, and hazard abatement would be sped up. In addition, victims of accidents and their family members would be provided greater rights during investigations and enforcement actions.”
OSHA’s current max of $70,000 for a willful violation would increase to $120,000. Other fines are increased: $5,000 to $8,000 and $7,000 to $12,000.
New enforcement teeth: “If such a willful or repeated violation caused or contributed to the death of an employee, such civil penalty amounts shall be increased to not more than $250,000 for each such violation, but not less than $50,000 for each such violation, except that for an employer with 25 or fewer employees such penalty shall not be less than $25,000 for each such violation.”
Jail time: “Any employer who knowingly violates any standard, rule, or order… and that violation caused or contributed to the death of any employee, shall, upon conviction, (shall) be punished by a fine or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, except that if the conviction is for a violation committed after a first conviction of such person under this subsection or punishment shall be by a fine or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or by both.”
“Any employer who knowingly violates any standard, rule, or order and that violation causes or contributes to serious bodily harm to any employee but does not cause death to any employee, shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine or by imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or by both, except that if the conviction is for a violation committed after a first conviction of such person, punishment shall be by a fine or by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or by both.”
It appears safety and health managers could face this punishment, as the bill defines “employer” as any officer or director.