AIHA Comments on Protecting America’s Workers Act

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) recently released comments on HR 2067, Protecting America’s Workers Act, a bill amending the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 that is sponsored by Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey, chairwoman of the Committee on Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

Although a few minor amendments to the OSH Act have been made, other attempts to revise the act have failed due to inability of various stakeholders to come to an agreement on what changes are necessary. Many employers, workers and health and safety professionals believe that the agency is unable to fully focus on protecting the workforce due to inadequate funding, personnel shortage and a fractured standard-setting process.

AIHA made a number of comments to several parts of the legislation, however, the primary focus was on coverage and application of the act (Title I, Section 101, Coverage of Public Employees) and increasing penalties for violations (Title III, Sections 301-310).

In it’s comments, AIHA states, “AIHA supports OSHA coverage to include state and local public employees and federal government workers not currently covered by OSHA, as well as other workers inadequately covered such as airline and railroad employees.”

Only 21 states and Puerto Rico currently have OSHA programs that are federally approved – three states have federally supported programs that apply only to state and local governments. AIHA believes the endorsement of the expansion of OSHA programs in the remaining 26 states and the District of Columbia is essential to the protection these workers.

AIHA also recommended an increase in penalties for employers who knowingly violate occupational health and safety laws that lead to a fatality. Furthermore, AIHA suggests that emphasis be placed on those ultimately responsible for the violation. “AIHA is concerned that the health and safety professional will become the ‘fall guy’ even if an investigation shows that these individuals were making efforts to comply with federal law and their recommendations were overruled or ignored by those with more authority.”

Additional comments included:

· The incorporation of language in the legislation that requires the secretary of Labor to “…devise a process whereby, in addition to other health and safety standards promulgated, permissible exposure limits be modified and established for toxic materials and harmful physical agents on a regular basis. This process could include a requirement to regularly (perhaps at least every three years) evaluate available scientific evidence, data and information to determine if exposure limits should be established or updated.”

· The inclusion of a supplementary section requiring an increase of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission membership from three to five members in order to make certain that cases are reviewed in a timely manner.

· The amendment of the legislation to include language establishing the requirement that all employers must have a written safety and health program.

AIHA offered to further assist Congress, OSHA, and other heath and safety stakeholders in ensuring that standards, regulations, and compliance guidelines are met.

To view the HR 2067 recommendations letter in its entirely, visit http://www.aiha.org/1documents/governmentaffairs/HR2067Position052709.pdf.

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