A slew of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reform bills, including five introduced by Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., have been introduced and some were debated in the House this week.
"My goal is to continue to push for changes that will further reduce injuries and fatalities by encouraging voluntary action and cooperative approaches," said Ballenger, chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. "Where regulation and enforcement is imposed, it should be fair and the benefits should justify the costs. Unfortunately, there are still far too many instances in which OSHA's enforcement and regulation is neither."
The five Ballenger OSHA reform bills under consideration:
- H.R. 1438, the Safety and Health Audit Promotion Act, would prohibit the agency from obtaining health and safety audits completed by third parties unless it was investigating a fatality or conducting a criminal investigation.
- H.R. 1439, the Safety and Health Audit Promotion and Whistleblower Improvement Act, would amend the OSH Act to allow whistleblowers to proceed with complaints through administrative action if a court case is not likely. The bill also contains language that prohibits OSHA from demanding information gathered by third-party audits unless the agency is investigating a fatality or criminal activities. The audit provisions were attached to the bill in an attempt to convince the Administration to negotiate compromises with Congress the administration is in favor of the whistleblower provisions, but against the audit provisions.
- H.R. 1434, would allow employees to fully participate in identifying and evaluating health and safety conditions in the workplace. Currently, there is concern that safety committees violate provisions of the National Labor Relations Act.
- H.R. 1436, would change the regulatory process to require OSHA to indicate exactly which industry is being regulated when a standard is issued. It would also require a risk and cost evaluation of each industry.
- H.R. 1437, would change the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) to exclude penalties for non-serious violations by small businesses if the hazard is corrected by the employer.
Other OSHA reform bills:
- H.R. 1459, the Models of Safety and Health Excellence Act, introduced by Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., would codify the Voluntary Protection Programs.
- H.R. 987, the Workplace Preservation Act, introduced by Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would delay OSHA from implementing an ergonomics standard or guideline until the National Academy of Sciences completes a peer-reviewed scientific study and submits it to Congress.
"When we began this effort, the Clinton Administration claimed that any change in OSHA's focus on enforcement would lead directly to increased injuries and deaths. In fact, just the opposite has occurred," Ballenger said at a hearing on four of the proposed bills.
OSHA supports codification of VPP but has not issued any statements regarding the other OSHA reform bills.