The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed in 1970 with the goal of establishing minimum standards for safe worksites in order to reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries. Although many new OSHA rules and regulations have passed since the 1970s, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been stymied in some ways when it comes to passing new worker protection rules in the decades since the passage of OSHA.
For example, OSHA has attempted to update permissible exposure limits to adjust allowable levels of exposure to a broad array of substances, but has not been able to make big changes. OSHA has also not updated its penalties as often as some believe it should, although the maximum penalties for certain citations were finally overhauled recently after many years.
To modernize and update OSHA and improve the protections for workers, democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce have reintroduced legislation that the lawmakers believe would improve working conditions and reduce the risk of work injuries. Safety BLR reported on the proposed changes to OSHA found in the legislation, which is similar to past proposals that have been made but which have not been successful.
The future of this new legislation is uncertain, but there are many factors that suggest the proposed bill will be unlikely to pass in this legislative session. If OSHA rules are not strengthened, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will continue to face important limits in what OSHA can do and workers may continue to face unnecessary risks at work. An Atlanta work injury lawyer should be consulted by any worker who is harmed on the job in order to understand what his rights are.
Atlanta Workers Could be Better Protected from Work Injuries
According to Safety BLR, the legislation that has been reintroduced is called the Protecting America’s Workers Act. The Act would expand coverage under OSHA to municipal workers in the 25 states that federal OSHA rules apply to. It would also require employers who have been cited for serious, willful or repeat violations to take action right away to correct hazards that OSHA inspectors have identified, even if the employer is contesting the OSHA citations.
Other changes include providing broader protections for whistleblowers; updating consensus standards that were included in the 1970’s act that have become obsolete; giving OSHA the authority to increase penalties of certain violations; authorizing felony penalties (instead of just misdemeanor penalties) against employers who are known violators of OSHA standards if the violation results in death or serious injury; and allowing penalties against both officers and directors.
Finally, the Secretary of Labor would be given concurrent enforcement authority in states with safety rules that don’t meet minimum requirements, and OSHA would be required by law to conduct investigations in all cases where an employee is seriously injured or where a death occurs on-the-job. Families of workers who lose their lives while doing work tasks would also be guaranteed the right to meet investigators from OSHA, to obtain copies of citations from investigations into the worksite where the death took place, and to make a statement before OSHA settles with employers.
These changes could hopefully provide more authority to make worksites safer, but it is not clear if the proposed law will pass or will once again be unsuccessful as it has been in the past, thus leaving workers more vulnerable to harm.