Is This the Year for OSHA Reform?

[tweetmeme]from the desk of Aaron Trippler, Director of AIHA Government Affairs Department-Happenings From the Hill (July 1, 2010)

When Congress returned from the Memorial Day recess, it looked as though occupational health and safety issues were going to be pushed off the agenda and simply fade away. Congress spent the last several weeks discussing financial reform, holding hearings on the newest Supreme Court nominee, and, unfortunately, discussing how to address the BP oil spill.

 While Congress did hold specific OH&S hearings to discuss worker health and safety with the BP issue, it looked as though we would enter the Fourth of July recess with no action on any other OH&S issue.

Yet here we are at the July 4th recess and we are looking at the most serious effort in years to see OSHA reform legislation enacted. It’s not a done deal, but the movement is intriguing.

This week, AIHA and other stakeholders were provided with a draft legislation to be introduced in both the House and the Senate to enact major reform to mine safety laws and in the process do the same for the OSH Act. Introduction of legislation to address mine safety laws was expected; following the Upper Branch Mine explosion it was inevitable Congress would strengthen mine safety laws.

The discussion then turned to whether or not Congress might consider two different health and safety issues – mine safety laws and legislation already introduced to address OSHA, the Protecting America’s Worker Act. Most insiders were betting there was no way Congress would pass both measures before the end of this session. AIHA, in our earlier Senate testimony and in recent letters addressing other issues, suggested the issue of criminal penalty provisions for OSHA could perhaps be rolled into any mine safety legislation.

Lo and behold – it looks as if not only criminal penalties will be rolled into mine safety legislation but nearly the entire Protecting America’s Worker Act will be included. Here’s what we know:

Draft legislation addressing mine safety will likely be introduced in both the House and the Senate. However, the lead on this issue will likely be in the House. Included in the mine safety provisions will be these provisions from the Protecting America’s Worker Act (PAWA):

  • Strengthening of whistleblower protections
  • Increasing criminal penalties where workers are killed, increasing the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for willful violations
  • Updating civil penalties
  • Preventing litigation from delaying the correction of hazards
  • Providing greater rights for victims and their families

 The Next Step

We expect the draft legislation to be officially introduced in early July. There is also word that a hearing on the legislation may be scheduled within the next couple of weeks.

The Outlook 

 This is where is gets interesting. While the issue has the support of the administration, OSHA, labor and numerous other stakeholders, obstacles remain. 

  • Is there time?

Congress left town today, returning on July 9. Congress is then scheduled to remain in Washington until August 9 when they take their scheduled summer recess that will last until after Labor Day. When they return in September they are scheduled to work until around mid-October and then recess for the November elections. While they are likely to return after the election for a “lame duck” session, few serious issues will be voted on during that time.

What this means is that Congress has only 30-40 days of session scheduled to enact legislation. Difficult!

  • Can It Pass?

The bill will probably be enacted in the House, notwithstanding the fact there will be considerable opposition. The question is can it make its way through the Senate? This is where the opposition has a better chance of stopping the bill.

The difficulty for the opposition is if they oppose the bill it will look as if they are against strengthening mine safety laws – an issue that most believe needs to be addressed. Some insiders believe the bill would stand a better chance if it did not include all of the provisions from the PAWA, but simply the provisions addressing penalties.

Either way, it won’t be long before we know the outcome.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] the original post: Is This the Year for OSHA Reform? « The Safety Director's Cut Share and […]

  2. […] Miner Safety and Health Act in order to help passage of key components contained within PAWA.  Aaron Trippler with Government Affairs Department of AIHA reported on this issue yesterday as well.  39.172025 […]

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