Using Mine Safety Bill to Add Costs, Lawsuits for All Businesses

By July 22, 2010Human Resources

The House Education and Labor Committee continues to quickly move forward with misguided legislation to overhaul our nation’s workplace safety laws. On Wednesday July 21st the Committee marked up H.R. 5663, the Miner Safety and Health Act. As we have noted previously, the bill goes far beyond the regulation of mining to rewrite vast portions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act that affect all businesses. During the mark-up session Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) offered a manager’s amendment that made no improvements to the bill’s excesses. The amendment did, however, rename the legislation the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010.

The Committee rejected amendments that would have improved the legislation. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) proposed an amendment to strike the far-reaching OSHA provisions in order to keep the legislation focused on addressing mine safety issues. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) also offered an amendment to strip out one of the more egregious provisions of the bill, language that radically expands criminal penalties for certain OSHA violations via a nebulous system that requires simply a “knowing” standard. Such a standard is unheard of in safety laws and would significantly deter efforts by manufacturers to prevent accidents in the workplace.

Manufacturers regularly perform safety audits of their workplaces in order to assess any potential hazards that may exist. However this provision would find “any company officer or director” subject to criminal penalties if an employee was seriously injured as a result of hazard identified in the audit – even if the employer was in the process of making the necessary changes to address the hazard.

It is very unfortunate that the bill is moving forward without the kind of bipartisan approach more likely to produce common-sense reforms to our safety laws. The bill has the potential to come up for a vote next week during House leadership’s push for manufacturing-oriented legislation. It seems counterintuitive, to say the least, to be pushing legislation that would burden employers with additional costs and more threats of litigation during a time when Members of Congress have publicly committed themselves to improving the competitiveness of our manufacturing economy.

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