Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Dr. David Michaels on March 16 testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. Michaels shared the U.S. Department of Labor’s views on the Protecting America’s Workers Act, particularly the issue of enhanced penalties.
“Secretary Hilda Solis’ vision for the Department of Labor is ‘good jobs for everyone.’ Good jobs are safe jobs. Stronger OSHA enforcement will save lives. The administration supports both the goals of the Protecting America’s Workers Act and many specific provisions,” said Michaels. “Most employers want to do the right thing. But many others will only comply with OSHA rules if there are strong incentives to do so. OSHA’s current penalties are often not large enough to provide adequate incentives, and we are very low in comparison with those of other public health agencies. Clearly, OSHA can never put a price on a worker’s life. It is vital that OSHA be empowered to send a stronger message, especially when a life is needlessly lost.”
Environmental laws carry much heavier penalties than penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. For example, in 2001 a tank of sulphuric acid exploded at a Delaware oil refinery, killing employee Jeff Davis, whose body literally dissolved in the acid. The OSHA penalty was only $175,000. Yet in the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing an Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act citation of $10 million.
PAWA would improve the OSH Act by raising penalties for violations of the law, strengthening workers’ voices in the workplace, expanding the rights of victims and their families, expanding OSHA coverage to public employees, and requiring the abatement of serious, willful and repeat hazards during the citation contest period.
In his testimony, Michaels also noted, “Several sections would present significant budgetary and workload challenges for OSHA and OSHA’s support agencies, including the solicitor’s office and review commission. I look forward to working with you to ensure that we address these issues in the right way.”
Michaels’ testimony is available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=TESTIMONIES&p_id=1062.