A group of Congressional Democrats today announced legislation to make a broad array of changes to workplace safety laws. While the bill primarily seeks to overhaul existing mine safety laws, it includes several onerous provisions taken from the long-pending Protecting America’s Workers Act. Such proposals are simply not the right approach to assist both employers and employees in maintaining safe workplaces.
Instead of promoting a cooperative approach toward workplace safety, the provisions laid out in the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 take a punitive approach.
Senators Johnny Isakson and Mike Enzi rightfully point out that today’s efforts stray from previous efforts to develop comprehensive bi-partisan approaches to safety issues, like had been done in 2006. They argue, “Instead of pursuing that productive approach, Democrats have chosen to introduce a sweeping piece of legislation that affects every business in this country and only amplifies the adversarial role of OSHA and MSHA, without increasing safety.”
The proponents of the draft legislation say their motivation comes from the tragedy that occurred at the Upper Big Branch mine, but it’s a mistake to treat such unfortunate incidents as anything other than exceptions. Members of Congress should recognize that for decades, America’s manufacturers have improved the safety of their workplaces. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, incident rates for workplace illnesses and injuries have improved 54 percent since 1994. During this same time frame, workplace fatalities in manufacturing facilities have decreased 38 percent.
Included in this proposal is language that would enable OSHA inspectors to shut down operations and force employers to make changes to their workplaces in response to alleged hazards that may be identified by an inspector. Yet for each day it took the employers to put the required changes into effect, they would be fined $7,000 and, at the same time, not have the ability to appeal the decision of the inspector if his assessment is incorrect. Such an approach represents a huge blow to the due process rights that are inherent in our legal system.
Proponents are focusing their attention on mine safety, but in reality, this package would represent be one of the most sweeping changes to the OSH Act since its inception. In many ways the proposal would actually hinder the safety efforts by manufacturers by promoting an adversarial relationship between OSHA and the employers. We hope that Members of Congress will recognize that this is the wrong approach to our shared goal of making our workplaces safer and threatens the continued trend of improved safety. Placing further burdens on employers at a time when manufacturers are attempting to regain their economic footing hinders our ability to create and retain jobs.