Worker safety bill faces uphill battle
Measure has tougher penalties for workplace hazards
The reintroduction of a bill that would strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) is being hailed as a necessary step for protecting U.S. workers by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).
“The need for a stronger OSH Act was demonstrated this week with the tragic explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH. “When the plant was last inspected by OSHA all the way back in 1985, it was fined only $30 for a serious violation for storage of anhydrous ammonia.”
Among other things, the Protecting America’s Workers Act would make felony charges possible when repeated and willful violations result in a worker's death or serious injury, and would increase the penalties OSHA can impose on negligent employers.
Congressional resistance to bill
It was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate last month by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) just before Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28), which honors workers who have been injured or killed on the job. It also dovetails with National COSH’s Workers’ Memorial Week of Action (April 22-28), during which workplace safety advocates across the country will hold events, release reports and share stories and statistics about the prevalence of workplace fatalities.
National COSH spokesman Tom O’Connor conceded that the bill – which failed to make it through the legislative process in previous years – faces an uphill battle.
“Many in Congress refuse to enact legislation that would impose even modest improvements to existing rules, arguing the ‘regulations kill jobs.’ We believe that it is unsafe jobs that kill workers; and nearly 13 workers continue to die on the job every day as a result.”
He added: “Fines in response to safety violations hardly act as a deterrent to many employers, which factor in the fines as a cost of doing business.”
For more information about Workers’ Memorial Week of Action, visit www.workersmemorialweek.org.