CongressFelony charges for some violations and higher penalties for others are among the provisions in a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Patty Murry (D-Wash.).

If enacted, Senate Bill 665 -- the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) – would make significant changes in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

  • It would expand OSHA coverage to 8.5 million workers who are currently not covered by OSHA protections, including federal, state and local public employees.
  • Repeat and willful violations cited by OSHA that result in a worker’s death or serious injury would result in felony charges.
  • The civil penalty for a willful violation that results in a worker’s death would increase.
  • Whistleblower protections would increase.
  • The public’s right to know about safety violations would be broadened.
  • Regulations regarding how site-controlling employers keep track of injuries and illnesses for all employees on the work site would be revised.
  • The General Duty Clause would be revised to include all workers on the work site.

What is the outlook for this legislation?

“First of all, a similar version is expected to be introduced in the House,” notes Aaron K. Trippler, Government Affairs Director for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). “It is unlikely the House will take up the bill so if it is to move it will have to start in the Senate. Odds are not great for enactment. Odds are better, but not great, if the bill is split into several bills with each addressing one of the issues.”

Trippler noted that Murray’s bill is similar to previous versions that have been introduced each session since 2008. His analysis appeared in a recent edition of his Happenings on the Hill enewsletter.