“It has been four decades since the Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act,” said Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s national director of safety and health at a Senate hearing in late April.

“It’s time for the Congress and the nation to make the protection of America’s workers a high priority. It’s time for the Congress to renew the commitment to safe jobs for American workers and to strengthen the job safety and health law by passing the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA).”

The act would substantially raise OSHA fines and make it easier for the Justice Department to criminally prosecute egregious workplace safety and health standards violators.

But several veteran OSHA observers say Ms. Seminario shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for Congress to act.

The Senate hearing was “really nothing more than PR,” according to one source, who spoke to ISHN anonymously to protect relations with key OSHA stakeholders. “Senator Harkin has no leadership on this issue and has little interest in OH&S. I have said for a long time that the biggest problem we have in OH&S is that we have no champion on Capitol Hill.

“Passing the PAWA will be difficult – actually more like impossible. I believe the victim’s right area will be a deal-breaker, they don’t have the funds to expand coverage, and many say they aren’t even using the penalty structure they have now so why raise the penalties. The one possibility is that Congress introduced more amendments to the Miner Act that might include some penalty increases. If that occurs, there is a very slight chance that we could convince them to also raise the penalty structure for OSHA in the same bill.

“One must understand the politics of this issue and the timing. Recent accidents provide Congress with opportunity to grandstand. As for the rest – take a look and you will see they have about 90 days left in session this year. That isn’t enough time to pass something this complex.”

“Congress always has to have hearings after a big mining disaster – it’s a kind of ritual observance,” says another DC veteran.