From the heights of hump day this week we see a gathering storm:
House and Senate Democrats are joining forces for the most sweeping OSHA reform bill since the agency was created in 1970.
Until now, OSHA reforms written into the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) have gone nowhere on Capitol Hill.
THE NEW SPIN: Increased OSHA fines and criminal penalties are tacked on to the end of 100 pages of draft legislation primarily concerned with reforming the Mine Safety and Health Act, now being finalized by Democrats in Congress.
Republicans will be hard pressed to resist reforms to MSHA in the wake of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion on April 5 which cost 29 West Virginia miners their lives. Whether they can shave off the OSHA reforms remains to be seen. With the BP oil spill (and the loss of 11 lives on the rig explosion) still making daily headlines, it is not a good climate for being seen as anti-safety anything.
This MSHA reform bill with OSHA measures riding piggyback represent Congressional Democrats’ most serious stab at strengthening occupational safety and health laws since President Obama was elected in 2008. How far this bill actually proceeds is anything but clear. Passage in the House, where Dems have a significant majority, is a safer bet than Senate action, where the real fight will erupt, if the meausre reaches the floor.
TOUGH TALK: “We are determined to put sharper teeth in our workplace safety laws and to step up federal enforcement,” Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health , Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in a statement about the legislation.
“We have seen too many accidents over the last few months in workplaces across the country,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). “Between recent mine disasters and similar tragedies in other industries, it has become clear that Congress needs to act to strengthen protections provided by both MSHA and OSHA.
AMPED UP: Senate Republicans faulted the proposal for adding power to OSHA.
The measure “affects every business in this country and only amplifies the adversarial role of OSHA and MSHA, without increasing safety,” Republican Senators Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Johnny Isakson of Georgia said in a joint statement.
END RUN: In the final section of the draft bill, “Guaranteeing Basic Protections in All Other Workplaces,” Democrats summarize the OSHA reforms: “To ensure that all workplaces have basic protections, whistleblower protections would be strengthened, criminal and civil penalties would be increased, and hazard abatement would be sped up. In addition, victims of accidents and their family members would be provided greater rights during investigations and enforcement actions.”
NEW ENFORCEMENT TEETH: OSHA’s current max of $70,000 for a willful violation would increase to $120,000. Other fines are increased: $5,000 to $8,000 and $7,000 to $12,000.
States the draft bill: “If such a willful or repeated violation caused or contributed to the death of an employee, such civil penalty amounts shall be increased to not more than $250,000 for each such violation, but not less than $50,000 for each such violation, except that for an employer with 25 or fewer employees such penalty shall not be less than $25,000 for each such violation.”
JAIL TIME: “Any employer who knowingly violates any standard, rule, or order… and that violation caused or contributed to the death of any employee, shall, upon conviction, (shall) be punished by a fine or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, except that if the conviction is for a violation committed after a first conviction of such person under this subsection or punishment shall be by a fine or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or by both.”
“Any employer who knowingly violates any standard, rule, or order and that violation causes or contributes to serious bodily harm to any employee but does not cause death to any employee, shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine or by imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or by both, except that if the conviction is for a violation committed after a first conviction of such person, punishment shall be by a fine or by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or by both.”
YES, YOU: It appears safety and health managers could face this punishment, as the bill defines “employer” as any officer or director.
“As CEO Hayward Remade BP, Safety, Costs Drives Clashed” â€” The Wall Street Journal, June 29th
“Dispelling the myths around health and safety” â€” interview with the head of the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive in UK newspaper The Guardian, June 30th (55-year-old Judith Hackitt, a Cambridge-educated chemical engineer who professes interests in rock music and rugby “watching, not playing”)
EHS PRO ON THE GRIDDLE
That would be Steve Flynn, vice president of health, safety, security and environment, BP Global, London, United Kingdom, testifying tomorrow (July 1) before the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety.
YES, ANOTHER BP HEARING
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announces the following full committee hearing titled, “The Deepwater Horizon Tragedy: Holding Industry Accountable.” To be held today (June 30) at 10 am.
A safety pro emails: “To me, it is clear that OSHA is using the injury and illness prevention program (I2P2) as a ‘Trojan Horse’. First for ergo, then, who knows what else. Once OSHA gets this standard enacted, they can apply it to anything they choose, with no input from the regulated community.
”My concern is for the safety and health professionals. How will their professionalism be affected by this OSHA onslaught? OSHA will be, in effect, defining our profession. And they are far from qualified to do that.”
DON’T GET BURNED UP OVER THE FOURTH
A new U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study indicates that in 2009 there were two deaths and nearly 9,000 emergency room visits for injuries resulting from fireworks related incidents. Most fireworks injuries occurred to consumers younger than 20 and resulted in the loss of a limb in many cases.
CPSC says consumers who decide to purchase legal fireworks should take the following safety steps:
Enjoy a safe and happy Indie Day.