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House and Senate Committee Hearings Focus on Workplace Safety Issues
Posted on April 28, 2009 by Jay Sumner

On April 28, both the House and Senate conducted hearings to address the adequacy of employer incentives for maintaining safe workplaces and penalties for violating Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) laws. Lawmakers in both chambers stressed the need for OSH reform.

The House Committee on Education and Labor’s hearing examined whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) laws ensure that employers who fail to protect their workers are adequately penalized and deterred from committing future violations. Claiming that penalties against employers who commit OSH Act violations are “shockingly low,” Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif), Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, testified that the bill she introduced last week – the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) – would provide necessary OSH Act reform, including increased civil and criminal penalties for employers. A video of her testimony can be found here.

Other speakers and their testimony can be found here.

Similarly, during the hearing held by the Senate Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) claimed that current workplace safety laws rely too heavily on voluntary employer compliance and “watered down” penalties. According to Murray, OSHA has not lived up to its mission. She claimed that a new administration and Congress can “revisit” the OSH Act and the agency responsible for administering it.

Warren K. Brown, President of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), however, testified that while some changes to the Act are needed, wholesale changes could “diminish OSHA’s capability to be this nation’s leader in occupational safety and health.” Brown suggested that since the vast majority of employers implement safety programs and abide by them, OSHA should “direct its enforcement resources where the greatest gains in safety can be achieved – towards those employers with a history of flagrantly ignoring their compliance responsibilities.”

A complete list of the senate hearing panelists and their testimony can be found here.

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