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November 17, 2005

US Senate to OSHA: Something Evil This Way Comes

By Jordan Barab, Reprinted From Confined Space

Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi (R) is reportedly poised to introduce wide-ranging legislation that will seriously weaken the Occupational Safety and Health Act. While all the details aren't in, Inside OSHA (subscription required) has obtained a summary of the bills and the first impression is...worse than anyone expected.

First, what won't be on the bills: Enzi had originally planned to make it easier for OSHA to seek criminal penalties against employers cited for willful violations, but succumbed to industry pressure to drop that proposal. The criminal penalties language would have raised the maximum prison sentence for willful OSHA violations from six to 18 months, according to Inside OSHA.

Oh well. I mean, it's not like they're actually killing people. Oh, actually, yes they are.

Among the bills that Enzi is expected to introduce as early as next week are:

Occupational Safety Partnership Act: Enzi will also repropose his pet project -- privatizing OSHA enforcement by allowing employers to hire private sector consultants to inspect their workplaces and issue a "certificate of compliance," exempting them from an OSHA citation for two years. The Partnership act will also increase the use of voluntary protection programs and technical assistance programs. These are the same programs that the Government Accountability Office studied in 2004 and found to have no proven value.

Occupational Safety Fairness Act: This bill includes Charlie Norwood's (R-GA) four OSHA-weakening bills that already passed the House of Representatives last July. In addition, there's are some even worse provisions, including one that would allow employers to vacate citations "if an employer can demonstrate that the employees of such employer were protected by alternative methods equivalent or more protective of the workers’ safety and health." In other words, instead of citing according to OSHA standards, the agency would be forced to use its shrinking resources to prove that the employer's "alternative" methods weren't equally as protective as the OSHA standard.

It would also allow employers to avoid non-serious citations if they fix the problem within 72 hours and requires OSHA is issue most citations within 30 days (instead of the current 6 months), doubles the amount of time the employer has to contest a citation. (With no additional resources, of course.)

This bill also states that “other than serious” citations may not be used as a basis for issuing subsequent, repeat, or willful violation. In other words, if OSHA cites a "close call" or an unsafe condition, and then the same problem eventually leads to a serious injury or fatality, OSHA would be prohibited from issuing a significant citation.

But the worst part of this bill is that for the first time in OSHA's history, the agency would be empowered to cite workers if they aren't wearing their personal protective equipment. Yes, this is the same agency that after five years, still refuses to issue a completed regulation requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment mandated by OSHA standards.

Those are the best parts. More details as they emerge.

Get ready for a fight.

Posted by Jordan Barab at November 17, 2005 11:56 PM