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Union details 12-point plan to beef up OSHA enforcement (4/30)

April 29, 2009
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Union details 12-point plan to beef up OSHA enforcement (4/30) At a House hearing on April 28, AFL-CIO Director of Safety and Health Peg Seminario outlined a 12-plan to put real “teeth” into OSHA enforcement, as she described. With an administration and Labor Secretary sympathetic to union concerns and grievances, you can be sure Seminario’s views are echoing in the Department of Labor. Acting OSHA chief Jordan Barab’s former boss on Capitol Hill, Rep.George Miller (D-CA), sponsored the April 28 hearing and introduced legislation the previous week to beef up OSHA enforcement. Barab has been quoted in internal OSHA emails as vowing to recharge OSHA enforcement and reinvigorate the agency.

Here are Seminario’s 12 recommendations, taken word for word from her prepared testimony:

1) OSHA can and should take action under the existing law to make enforcement more effective and to enhance penalties for violations that put workers in serious danger and cause death and injury.

2) The entire OSHA penalty policy and formulas should be reviewed and revamped. The agency should use its the full statutory authority to impose meaningful penalties for serious, willful and repeat violations of the law, particularly in cases involving worker deaths.

3) OSHA should cease the practice of issuing “unclassified” violations in all enforcement cases. The Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) should be overhauled to actually provide for enhanced enforcement, stiffer penalties and follow-up for employers who persistently violate the law.

4) Federal OSHA should conduct an in-depth review of the enforcement and penalty policies and practices in the state plan states to determine whether they are “as effective as” the federal OSHA enforcement program, as required by law, and take action where plans are found to be deficient.

5) OSHA should greatly expand the access to and disclosure of information on employer’s enforcement records. The list of employers on OSHA’s EEP list should be posted on the web, along with reports about the employers’ violations and progress towards addressing hazards. The OSHA inspection database should be not only searchable by establishment, but also by industry, geographic area, standards violated and types of violations and linked to the data bases on exposure measurements and injury rates reported under the OSHA data initiative.

6) The Congress must also act to address the serious deficiencies in the OSH Act itself. The OSHA civil penalties should be increased – significantly. The enhanced penalties for mine safety adopted by Congress in the MINER Act in 2006 - $60,000 for serious violations and $220,000 for flagrant violations - provide a good guide.

7) There should also be a floor for penalties in fatality cases, to take into account the harm that has been done.

8) These increased penalties should be automatically adjusted for inflation, as is the case with other federal laws, so their impact is not diluted with the passage of time.

9) OSHA’s authority to issue violations and assess penalties for each instance of a violation should be made clear and unambiguous. The greater the number of workers put at risk or in danger or who have been injured or killed due to workplace violations, the greater the penalty should be.

10) Consideration should be given to adopting special provisions to address safety and health practices at the corporate level. Presently, the enforcement structure of the OSH Act is focused primarily at the establishment level, which is inadequate to change the practice and culture at the corporate level. Requirements for corporate officials to address identified violations and hazards on a corporate-wide basis would greatly enhance the Act’s effectiveness, and result in improved workplace conditions and greater protection for workers.

11) The criminal enforcement provisions of the Act must also be strengthened and expanded. At a minimum, criminal violations should be made a felony carrying a significant prison term and monetary fines, and expanded to cover cases where violations cause serious injury to workers. The law should make clear that responsible corporate officials are subject to prosecution in appropriate cases. As a matter of fundamental fairness and sound public policy, the criminal provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act should be strengthened so that violations of workplace safety laws carry at least the same potential consequences under our criminal justice system as violations of federal environmental statutes.

12) For these legislative improvements to be effectively implemented, OSHA and the Department of Labor must be given additional resources to enforce the law. The Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067), introduced last week by Rep. Miller and Rep.Woolsey with the support of others incorporates many of these needed measures.

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