Senators' Bill Supports OSHA's Enforcement, Training Role In Katrina Recovery

A bipartisan bill authored by the leaders of the Senate's Labor Committee, Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., calls on OSHA to enforce safety standards in the Katrina recovery effort and authorizes extra money to do so.

The legislation also provides money for OSHA to offer safety training to affected workers, and requires close Congressional oversight of OSHA's relief effort.

"This disaster reminds us that we are all part of the American family and we have a responsibility to help members of that family when they are in need," said Kennedy in a statement accompanying the introduction of the measure.

The Katrina Worker Safety and Filing Flexibility Act, S. 1771, was introduced Sept. 26. A spokesperson from Enzi's office said that while there is no agreement yet on when the full Senate would vote on the legislation, "we hope it will be soon."

Major provisions of the bill include:

  • A 'Sense of the Congress' that OSHA should "deploy sufficient personnel to the region to successfully carry out its mission, including enforcement of and education about safety standards and rights";
  • Authorizes the appropriation of sufficient money to pay for the personnel needed to enforce safety standards and provide health and safety training to emergency response, recovery, reconstruction workers and employers;
  • The Secretary of Labor and the OSHA administrator must report to Congress within 60 days concerning their progress in providing the personnel to enforce safety standards and provide training.

In addition, the bill requires the inspector general of the department of Labor to conduct an audit investigation of every departmental program related to the Katrina recovery effort. At least once a week, the inspector general is to give the report to the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as well as the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The legislation also states that OSHA should implement all of the relevant provisions of the Worker Health and Safety Annex plan and maintain records of the identity of everyone involved in the recovery and rebuilding effort.

By encouraging, rather than requiring, enforcement of OSHA safety rules, the Enzi-Kennedy bill appears to stop short of some of the demands contained in a letter sent to Congress Oct. 6 from more than 100 labor, religious, environmental and public health leaders and organizations.

The letter states that "thousands of disaster responders ... affected by Hurricane Katrina remain inadequately protected against exposure to environmental health hazards." The letter argues that the decision made by OSHA to provided technical assistance and advice but not enforcement actions for cleanup efforts at Ground Zero following 9/11, was partially responsible for many workplace illnesses. The lessons learned following 9/11 must be applied to the cleanup of Katrina, according to the letter.

One month after the hurricane, the signers believe that EPA and OSHA "should immediately commence enforcement of life-saving workplace and environmental laws and regulations."

While the letter makes no mention of the Enzi-Kennedy bill, it opposes the legislative proposal of Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to allow EPA to suspend or temporarily relax its rules.

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