House Hearing Examines OSHA's Enhanced Enforcement Program

A special worker health and safety program that targets employers that repeatedly put their workers in harms way is not working and needs to be refocused, witnesses told the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee during an April 30 hearing.

"After 6 years of operation, it's clear that the Enhanced Enforcement Program original design is flawed, and that OSHA under the Bush administration did not implement the program as intended," said U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., chair of the subcommittee. "We need to know why the program is not working and what we can do to fix it. The EEP has failed hundreds of workers like Jesus Rojas, and that is just not acceptable."

The Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP), created in 2003 by the Bush administration after an exposé into the poor safety and health record of the McWane Corp., identifies high risk employers by their past behavior and targets them for additional scrutiny. However, the U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General found the Bush federal OSHA did not properly carry out the initiative and it failed to effectively deter employers from putting workers' lives at risk.

"It is essential that OSHA target its limited resources to inspect workplaces with the highest risk of hazardous conditions that have greater potential to cause injuries and fatalities," said Elliot Lewis, assistant inspector general for audits at DOL. "While we cannot conclude that the enhanced enforcement would prevent subsequent fatalities, full and proper application of EEP procedures may have deterred and abated workplace hazards at the worksites of 45 employers where 58 subsequent fatalities occurred."

The Inspector General report also referenced additional businesses that should have been included in the Enhanced Enforcement Program, but never were. The report cited the death of Raul Figueroa, a mechanic at Waste Management in Florida who was killed while repairing a truck. OSHA cited Waste Management for a serious violation that resulted in the death of Figueroa.

"For some time before his death, my stepfather complained about safety problems at the facility," said Jesus Royas, Figueroa's stepson. "Companies like Waste Management should not be allowed to cut corners and compromise safety."

Witnesses also said the current program is too limited in scope because it does not focus on corporate-wide investigations and does not focus on the most flagrant violations that occur before workers are killed.

"What is needed is a more systemic, holistic examination of the current OSHA enforcement regime, said Eric Frumin, director of health and safety at Change to Win. "Waste Management's OSHA violations increased by 28 percent over the period 2003 to 2007. If Waste Management had implemented a comprehensive safety program, and held its managers accountable, Raul Figueroa might well be alive today."

Jordan Barab, the acting head of OSHA, testified that the agency is working on improving the Enhanced Enforcement Program.

"The Enhanced Enforcement Program was designed … to focus enforcement efforts on recalcitrant employers," Barab said. "OSHA is exploring ways to reinvigorate the EEP, and the OIG report provides a starting point for our efforts to do this in the most effective way."

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