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NAW News

OSHA Reform

- January 2011

NAW-opposed legislation to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), the “Protecting America’s Workers Act” was introduced in both houses of the 111th Congress (H.R. 2067; S. 1580). Among other things, the bills proposed an increase in “whistleblower” protections, employees’ right to refuse hazardous work, increased civil and criminal penalties, an extension of criminal liability exposure to corporate officers, and a new requirement that employers abate violations for serious hazards even while contesting an OSHA citation. The content of “PAWA” was later included in similar House and Senate measures addressing mine safety and health issues (H.R. 5663, “Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act”; S. 3671, “Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act”). The House bill was approved by the Education and Labor Committee on a party-line 30 – 17 vote but advanced no further. The Senate bill was not considered by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

During the 111th Congress’ “lame duck” session, the House considered legislation that included only the mine safety and health provisions (H.R. 6495, “Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act”) under “suspension of the rules”. The vote was 214 – 193, far short of the 2/3 majority needed for passage when utilizing that expedited procedure.

While legislation like PAWA is likely dead for the foreseeable future, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is likely to be a hot bed of regulatory activity for the duration of the Obama presidency. OSHA has already promulgated proposed rules aimed at: gathering data related to workplace repetitive motion injuries (although a large-scale ergonomics rulemaking is not considered likely in the near future); revising the On-Site Consultation Program to enhance enforcement at the expense of collaboration and cooperation; and an “Injury and Illness Prevention Program” (“I2P2”) proposal requiring all employers to implement injury and illness prevention programs is considered imminent as “Staff Reports” goes to press. OSHA indicates that the I2P2 rulemaking will “provide employers the tools necessary to find and fix their own workplace safety and health hazards. Moreover, this rulemaking is projected to enhance worker’s voice and participation in the process, as well as establish guidelines and require employers to implement their own process that proactively addresses workplace safety and health hazards and ultimately reduces workplace injuries and illnesses.”

(For more information on these and similar issues see the separate staff report “Regulatory Agenda and Oversight.”)