House Democrats Back Bill to Significantly Expand OSHA's Coverage

The proposed Protecting America's Workers Act would expand OSHA coverage to state and local government employees in 25 states and expand it to include federal employees.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Connecticut Democrat and a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, reintroduced the Protecting America's Workers Act on Feb. 7 -- the ninth anniversary of the explosion at the Kleen Energy plant under construction at the time. Courtney was joined by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., chairman of the committee and Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

The bill would expand OSHA coverage to state and local government employees in 25 states and expand it to include federal employees.

"Nine years ago, there was a devastating explosion at the Kleen Energy plant, which was under construction in Middletown, Connecticut," Courtney said. "The explosion took the lives of six workers – including that of my friend, Ronald Crabb of Colchester, Connecticut – and injured dozens more. Today, on the ninth anniversary of the accident, it's appropriate that my colleagues and I reintroduce this legislation to make critical, decades-overdue updates to OSHA. Every day, 14 employees go to work and never come home to their families due to fatal on-the-job injuries. The OSH Act made great strides in protecting American workers, but since it was enacted the American workplace has modernized and diversified. The law should keep up with the realities that workers face on the job today. Our bill is focused on updates and compliance, not on petty, punitive measures against employers and will ensure that today's workforce is empowered and protected by our nation's chief worker safety law."

In August 2010, OSHA cited three construction companies and 14 site contractors for 371 alleged workplace safety violations and proposed $16.6 million in penalties after investigating the natural gas explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems LLC power plant construction site in Middletown. In September 2011, answering a recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the National Fire Protection Association released NFPA 56, Standard for Fire and Explosion Prevention During Cleaning and Purging of Flammable Gas Piping Systems, which prohibits using a flammable gas as a cleaning agent to clean out pipes. The explosion had been caused by this type of "gas purging."

"The Protecting America’s Workers Act makes long overdue improvements to [the] Occupational Safety and Health Act by providing coverage to millions of workers who have been excluded from the law's protections," Scott said. "The legislation bolsters remedies for workers who face retaliation for reporting unsafe work and ensures that there are adequate deterrents for employers who may be tempted to cut corners and put profits ahead of safety. Strengthening our nation's workplace safety laws helps ensure that every worker can return home safe and healthy at the end of every shift."

Adams expressed her full support for the bill, saying, "For too long, employers in some of our most dangerous occupations have been able to cut corners and not face true accountability for keeping safe and healthy work spaces. The Protecting America’s Workers Act would change this dynamic, improving crucial recordkeeping, increasing monetary penalties for unscrupulous employers, and putting American workers first."

According to the committee's news release, the bill would:

  • Require employers to correct hazardous conditions while a citation for a serious, willful, or repeat violation is being contested
  • Update consensus standards that were incorporated by reference when the OSH Act was passed in 1970
  • Deter high-gravity violations by providing authority for increased civil penalties for willful and serious violations that cause death or serious bodily injury
  • Require employers to report injury and illness records to OSHA to provide the agency with data to effectively target unsafe workplaces
  • Authorize felony penalties against employers who knowingly commit OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury and extend such penalties to corporate officers and directors
  • Require OSHA to investigate all cases of death and serious injuries that occur within a place of employment
  • Establish rights for families of workers who are killed on the job by giving families the right to meet with OSHA investigators, receive copies of citations, and to have an opportunity to make a statement before any settlement negotiations
  • Improve protections for workers in state plan states by allowing the secretary of Labor to assert concurrent enforcement authority in those states where the plan fails to meeting minimum requirements needed to protect workers' safety and health, as recommended by a Government Accountability Office report
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