House Panel Approves Business-Friendly OSHA Bills

The House OSHA oversight subcommittee narrowly approved legislation that would give some employers more time to contest OSHA citations, expand the size, and strengthen the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The bills, sponsored by subcommittee chairman Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., won the approval of every Republican, and none of the Democrats, on the House panel in a July 24 mark-up.

The three measures were originally part of a larger OSHA 'reform' bill, H.R. 1583. After hearings on this proposal last month, Norwood decided to break the bill into smaller pieces and focus his efforts on the three less controversial provisions of the original bill.

In an interview after the votes, Norwood said he expected the full House Education and Workforce Committee would consider the legislation in September.

If Norwood can continue to attract unanimous Republican support, the bills could pass the Republican-controlled House, but they face an uncertain future in the Senate, where no companion legislation has been introduced.

"I think there is discussion about a companion Senate bill, but at this point I don't know anything for sure," Norwood explained.

  • H.R. 2728 amends the Occupational Safety and Health Act by giving the Review Commission the authority to allow employers to have a day in court even if they have missed the 15-day deadline to respond to an OSHA citation.
  • H.R. 2729 increases the number of commissioners on the Review Commission from three to five.
  • H.R. 2730 requires courts to give greater deference to the Review Commission and less to OSHA in contested cases.

In a brief discussion before the vote, Democrats denounced the legislation as a typical example of Republicans doing the bidding of big business, while ignoring the health and safety of working people.

"Nothing in these bills makes the workplace safer," asserted ranking subcommittee member Rep. Major Owens, D-NY.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) supported all three bills. "None of the legislation would alter any safety standards or penalties, but it would help level a system that is currently tilted so high against employers that most are forced to settle even the more frivolous claims," commented Chris Tampio, NAM's policy expert.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association issued a statement that took no position on H.R. 2730, while offering support H.R. 2728 and 2729. Expanding the Review Commission from three to five members "will have a positive impact on the health and safety of workers," opined Thomas Grumbles, president of AIHA.

The organization also took issue with the claims of Norwood and his allies that the bill is intended to help small business. "AIHA can find no specific language in the bill that limits these changes to small business….the suggested changes would apply to all businesses across the board."

In his opening statement, Norwood pointed out that during last month's hearings witnesses said the Review Commission is usually unable to function because it lacks a quorum. As a result, a large backlog of cases has developed, and it can take more than 10 years for the commission to resolve some cases.

Puzzled Republicans on the subcommittee asked their Democratic colleagues why they opposed expanding the often-dysfunctional Review Commission.

Presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, rose to the challenge, expressing concerns that the bill would allow the president could "stack the commission" with anti-worker members.

"That shows a lack of confidence in who the next president will be," retorted Norwood, as the room erupted into laughter.

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