OSHA official: We're serious about the "new sheriff in town" (3/4
“I know you've all heard Secretary Solis' statement that "There's a new sheriff in town." Dr. Michaels and I take this phrase seriously. It isn't an abstract wish; it's a description of how OSHA is now working,” said Barab.
”We can see this new focus in the egregious citations OSHA recently issued to a chemical waste processing facility in Houston after it killed a worker in a terrible, preventable explosion - this employer's third fatality in less than a year. The proposed fine in this case is almost $1.5 million.
”In Pittsburg we cited a building contractor over half a million dollars after a worker was killed falling off the roof. We later found that workers had been asking for fall protection equipment and, although the employer had the equipment on hand, he refused to allow the workers to use it.
”Here in New Jersey, as a result of our National Emphasis Program for Refineries, OSHA issued citations to four refineries in the last year - totaling more than half a million dollars.
”It's unfortunate but true that we need to issue a sizable fine to get the attention of employers who do not respect the lives of their workers.
”If the threat of a fine isn't enough, we have other ways to drive home the point that employers need to obey the law. Last year, in conjunction with the U.S. Marshal's Service, we conducted the first-ever vehicle seizure in an OSHA whistleblower case. We seized a car from the president of Brocon Petroleum after the company failed to pay $7,500 in back wages to a former employee. The back wages were a result of a consent judgment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey to resolve a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Labor Department in March 2008. The vehicle was sold in an auction by the U.S. Marshals to recoup their costs. There was enough left over to pay the whistleblower and cover some of OSHA's costs as well.
”Under this administration, OSHA is returning to the original intent of the OSH Act. We're a regulatory and enforcement agency and we're going to act like it. We're also a public health regulatory and enforcement agency. Our authority stems directly from the need to prevent events and exposures that maim and kill American workers.
In other news, a shift in resources called for in next year's budget will enable OSHA to conduct more than 3,500 additional inspections in FY 2011, according to the agency.