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Wednesday, February 26, 2020
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Work Force Development

Current Legislation to Reform OSHA

In February, on the anniversary of the Imperial Sugar explosion, U.S. Rep. John Barrow co-sponsored bill, H.R.849, to require the Secretary of Labor to issue interim and final occupational safety and health standards regarding worker exposure to combustible dust. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. George Miller of California, chair of the House Education <>  and Labor Committee, and was referred to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. But the Barrow bill focused on just one aspect of worker’s protection and OSHA problems – industrial dust – and the Congressman now says that the legislation will not be necessary “is OHSA takes care of what needs to be done.”
Reform of OSHA is now contained in a major piece of legislation to protect workers that is working its way through the House (HR 2067) and Senate (S. 1580);  approximately ten percent of U.S. House members have signed on as co-sponsors, though neither Rep. John Barrow (D) or Rep. Jack Kingston (R) have done so. 
The Senate version, S 1580, was sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, and introduced on August 5, just weeks before he passed away. It is a re-introduction of similar bills he had sponsored in prior years. S 1580 has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, of which Kennedy was chairman.
Miller, who had helped Barrow with his bill, has signed on to co-sponsor HR 2067.  So, why is Barrow not a sponsor?
Barrow says, however, that while he is currently not a cosponsor of H.R. 2067, he supports many of the bill’s provisions.  "H.R. 2067 is different than H.R. 849, the “Worker Protection Against Combustible Dust Explosions and Fires Act of 2009,” the bill that Barrow and Congressman George Miller reintroduced this year, and that passed the House last year, according to Jane Brodsky, Barrow's spokesperson. "He remains committed to making sure those regulations are put in place, whether it’s by passing this legislation, or through an administrative fix, which he has been told is in the works over at the Department of Labor."
The House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing on April 28 on the OSHA “Enhanced Enforcement Program” included in the bill, which identifies high risk employers by their past behavior and targets them for additional scrutiny.
The U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General’s Office issued a report on April 1 that found the Bush administration did not properly enforce worker health and safety laws used to oversee employers with history of safety violations. It shows that over the last five years, since the program was established, the EEP has failed to effectively deter employers from putting workers’ lives at risk.
The House Education and Labor Committee also held a hearing on whether our nation’s health and safety laws ensure that employers who fail to protect their workers are adequately penalized and deterred from committing future violations.
Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 with the goal of assuring safe and healthful working conditions to all American workers. Nearly 40 years later, while workplace health and safety has improved, many workers remain at risk of death, injury or illness while on the job.
At the subcommittee hearing on April 28, Rep. Miller said, “We found that well documented hazards, like exposure to a chemical that causes popcorn lung disease and combustible dust dangers, as well as basic regulatory work like updating construction standards, were not being addressed.
In fact, OSHA’s regulatory function shut down. The Bush administration promulgated only one significant health and safety standard during its tenure. And that was under court order.
“Additionally, we found that enforcement tools were left on the shelf at times.
These facts uncovered by this committee show that the last eight years have left OSHA significantly weakened,” said Miller.
But he pointed out, that even if current regulations are enforce, “no matter how bad an employer acted, killing a worker is only a class B misdemeanor.”
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