The Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the "Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA) (H.R. 2067)." The bill, introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chair of the subcommittee, addresses three major weaknesses in the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act: It would expand OSHA coverage to more than 8.5 million state and local public employees who currently have limited or no protection from safety and health hazards at work. It also would amend OSHA's whistleblower provisions to expedite the process because the current delays in decision-making deprives workers of due process. Finally, the bill would update civil and criminal penalties.
Among those testifying was Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, who emphasized that current OSHA penalties must be increased in order to motivate employers to increase their compliance with the OSHA standards. Michaels stated that environmental laws currently carry much heavier penalties than penalties under the OSH Act, especially where loss of human life is involved. He provided the example of a 2001 incident in which a tank of sulphuric acid exploded at a Delaware oil refinery, killing an employee whose body literally dissolved in the acid, and thousands of fish and crabs. The OSHA penalty was only $175,000; yet, a $10 million citation was issued under the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act for killing the fish and crabs.
Michaels admitted that parts of the proposed legislation will impose significant budgetary and workload challenges for OSHA and its support agencies, including the solicitor's office and the review commission. His comment may indicate the likelihood of a significant increase in the OSHA fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request over that of FY 2011.
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