Safety and OSHA News

Bill would increase OSHA penalties, cover more workers

OSHA penalties haven’t been updated since 1990. A new bill in Congress would change that.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has reintroduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA). The legislation had previously been introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The measure would increase the penalties available to OSHA and prosecutors in the case of certain infractions:

  • Felony charges would be available for an employer’s repeat and willful violations of OSHA regulations that result in a worker’s death or serious injury (right now the maximum penalty is a misdemeanor), and
  • The minimum OSHA penalty for a worker’s death caused by a willful violation would be $50,000.

“Unscrupulous employers often consider it more cost effective to pay the minimal OSHA penalty and continue to operate an unsafe workplace than to correct the underlying health and safety problem,” said OSHA administrator David Michaels in support of a previously introduced version of PAWA that also would have increase penalties. “The current penalties do not provide an adequate deterrent.”

OSHA fines are small compared to those levied by other federal agencies. The maximum OSHA fine for a serious violation is $7,000. It’s $70,000 for a willful citation. In comparison, the Department of Agriculture can impose a $130,000 fine on milk processors for willful violations of the Fluid Milk Promotion Act. TV and radio stations can be fined $325,000 for on-air indecency. The EPA can issue $270,000 fines for Clean Air Act violations.

The bill would also add federal, state and local public employees to those covered by OSHA. Newly covered employees would include flight attendants, state correctional officers (prison guards) and other workers in government agencies.

PAWA would also:

  • Amend the General Duty Clause to include all workers at a work site, not just those of the controlling employer (new addition to this year’s version of PAWA)
  • Clarify employer responsibility to provide the necessary personal protective equipment for employees, and
  • Direct the Department of Labor (OSHA’s parent agency) to revise regulations for site-controlling employers to keep a site log for all recordable injuries among all employees at the work site (also new to this year’s PAWA).

Whistleblowers who tell government agencies about safety problems in their workplaces would also receive additional protections.

Do you think changes are needed to the Occupational Safety and Health Act which was enacted in 1971? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. sgrimes says:

    I thimk it is truly sad that the OSHA’s director and members of the House and Senate believe there are so many “unscrupulous” employers. My company has worked diligently for the last four years (our time of existence) to look at and improve where needed every aspect of our safety program and to include employees in the decision making process when determining whether a new rule should be implemented, new PPE should be trialed, tested, and used, how to prevent injuries, etc. I realize that there are a few employers out there who either don’t know the rules, or worse, don’t care about them, but I have to believe that those in our profession have made great strides in the last 10 years to improve the safety and health of our employees. Please Dr. Michaels (and other politicians), don’t generalize and trivialize all that we have accomplished.

  2. rabidamerican says:

    Unfortunately I must agree with the increase. I have worked and audited many companies. It seems they enjoy overseeing safety and environmental updates to protect workers, due to budget restraints, but are not hesitant whatsoever when raise and bonus time come around to enjoy these luxuries.

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