A bill that would make it much harder for inspectors to cite a "willful" violation of OSHA regulations will be the subject of a hearing on June 17 in the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

The bill, sponsored by the subcommittee's chair, Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), is cosponsored by all the Republicans on the subcommittee, which suggests that it is likely to pass in the House of Representatives, according to observers.

Called the "Occupational Safety and Health Fairness Act" (H.R. 1583), the bill:

  • Changes the definition of a willful violation so that an employer's "good faith belief in the legality in its conduct" will trump the employer's knowledge that he or she is violating the law. The definition would also be changed so a violation would not be considered willful if the violation didn't actually place an employee in harm's way;

  • Gives administrative law judges who hear appeals of OSHA citations the authority to excuse employers who miss the 15-day deadline for employers to file responses to OSHA citations, a change that could reduce the number of citations that are upheld when appealed by employers;

  • Increases the size of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission from three to five members, a change that would allow the Bush administration to pick the majority of the review commission's members;

  • Awards attorneys' fees and other costs to employers who successfully challenge OSHA citations,

  • Creates a list of issues that must be considered to minimize the size of the penalty that is assessed against an employer who is cited.

    According to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, the thrust of all the amendments proposed by Norwood would be to make it significantly more difficult for OSHA to cite an employer, and collect a substantial fine, than it is now. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Major Owens (D-NY), objects strongly to the Norwood bill.

    "The Republicans are continuing to try to gut the OSHA law and regulations as much as possible," says Owens. "Their strategy is to depict OSHA as the oppressor of the private sector. This is the propaganda they have been pushing since they took control of the House in 1994."

    Owens added that he expects the bill to "sail through" the Republican-dominated subcommittee and the full Committee on Education and the Workforce, according to NYCOSH.