OSHA Could Fine Workers for PPE Violations if Senate Bill Passes

The Republican senator who has been promising OSHA reform for more than 5 years has introduced a business-friendly legislative package that would curtail OSHA's enforcement powers but also would allow the agency to fine workers who violate employers' PPE policies.

The three bills, introduced Nov. 18 by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, include voluntary compliance initiatives that would "provide relief from the inspect-and-fine enforcement mindset that has dominated federal regulation of workplace for decades," Enzi said.

The most dramatic changes of the proposed legislative package are found in the Occupational Safety Fairness Act (S. 2066), which would allow small businesses to recover legal fees if they prevail in lawsuits against OSHA and would increase the size of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) to expedite the resolution of claims.

Both proposals were included in an OSHA reform package sponsored by Georgia Republican Charlie Norwood that passed the House in July.

S. 2066 also would allow OSHA to, in the words of Enzi, "issue citations and impose limited fines on employees that violate rules and procedures regarding the use of company-supplied personal protective equipment, because safety is everybody's responsibility."

Bills Emphasize Cooperation Between OSHA, Employers

In announcing the legislation, Enzi heralded the bills' emphasis on increasing cooperation between OSHA and the business community. He said the bills would ramp up OSHA's outreach, voluntary compliance and technical assistance programs, encourage cross-training between the agency and employers and offer businesses incentives such as "temporary waivers" from fines to seek the counsel of certified consultants for workplace safety issues.

"Cooperation, not confrontation, is essential in making our workplaces safer," Enzi said. "The notion that employers care little about worker safety, or are prepared to sacrifice worker health in the pursuit of profit is a dangerous myth.

"In fact, most employers are concerned for the welfare of their employees and are fully prepared to comply with laws aimed at enhancing their safety on the job. This package of bill will provide employers new opportunities to protect their important assets hard-working employees."

Enzi added that the bills' "innovative approach to workplace safety will help maximize the ability of the limited number of OSHA inspectors." Currently, there are about 2,400 inspectors with jurisdiction over more than 7 million work sites.

Enzi noted the three bills expand upon the workplace safety measures outlined in the Safety Advancement for Employees Act, which Enzi first introduced in 1997.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., are the co-sponsors of the three bills.

A summary of the three bills follows.

S. 2065 Focuses on Voluntary Compliance

The Occupational Safety Partnership Act (S. 2065), according to Enzi, contains provisions that aim to "enhance voluntary compliance and to provide technical assistance to employers that strive to ensure the health and safety of their employees."

The bill would:

  • Encourage employers to hire qualified third-party safety consultants;
  • Extend the benefits of initiatives such as the Voluntary Protection Plan to smaller employers;
  • Increase the level of government outreach and technical assistance to employers;
  • Implement a cross-training and exchange program between OSHA and the business community; and
  • Remove legal barriers for employers to establish drug and alcohol testing programs.

S. 2066 Aims to Level 'the Playing Field'

The Occupational Safety Fairness Act (S. 2066) aims to level "the playing field" for businesses that find the "regulatory power and resources of the federal government" overwhelming, according to Enzi.

This bill would:

  • Allow small businesses to recover attorney fees if they prevail in lawsuits against the government in an OSHA claim;
  • Increase the size of OSHRC in order to expedite the resolution of contested claims;
  • Make OSHRC a fully independent body;
  • Empower inspectors to weigh the actual safety of an individual workplace over "one-size-fits-all regulations" and allow inspectors to waive penalties for non-serious violations if they are promptly corrected; and
  • Allow OSHA to issue citations and impose limited fines on employees that violate company PPE rules and procedures.

S. 2067 Addresses Hazard Communication

The HazCom Simplification and Modernization Act (S.2067) would:

  • Provide for the simplification of current hazard communication standards and
  • Create a commission designed to review and make recommendations regarding the implementation of the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, hazard communications and other related issues.

For background on related OSHA reform legislation, read "House Passes Four Business-Friendly Bills to Change OSHA."

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