Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The laws they are a-changing

Contributed by: Eric Tofte, Director of Training, Evergreen Safety Council
On March 16, 2010 David Michaels, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health U.S. department of labor testified before the subcommittee on Workforce Protections, the Committee on Education and Labor; U.S. House of Representatives regarding H.R. 2067 which is cited as the “Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA)”. This amends the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (The one that created OSHA).

Mr. Michael’s testimony starts out:
Until 1970 there was no national guarantee that workers throughout America would be protected from workplace hazards. In that year the Congress enacted a powerful and far-reaching law—the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). The results of this law speak for themselves. The annual injury/illness rate among American workers has decreased by 65 percent since 1973, and while there are many contributing factors, the OSH Act is unquestionably among them. Employers, unions, academia, and private safety and health organizations pay a great deal more attention to worker protection today than they did prior to enactment of this landmark legislation.

But we cannot rest on our laurels. If we are to fulfill the Department's goal of providing good jobs for everyone, we must make even more progress. Good jobs are safe jobs, and American workers still face unacceptable hazards. More than 5,000 workers are killed on the job in America each year, more than 4 million are injured, and thousands more will become ill in later years from present occupational exposures. Moreover, the workplaces of 2010 are not those of 1970: the law must change as our workplaces have changed. The vast majority of America's environmental and public health laws have undergone significant transformations since they were enacted in the 1960s and 70s, while the OSH Act has seen only minor amendments. As a British statesman once remarked, ‘The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.’”

To read his entire testimony please follow this link:

With that said some of the things that you may want to be aware if this bill pass is that it will now have OSHA cover public employees of State’s and/or a political subdivision of a State.

Also, the bill will increase civil penalties for OSHA violations. For willful or repeat violations the maximum will be raised from $70,000 to $120,000 and the minimum will be raised from $5,000 to $8,000 for each violation. There is also language in this bill that is added dealing with a willful or repeat violation that causes an employees death and it states: “If such violation causes the death of an employee, such civil penalty amounts shall be increased to not more than $250,000 for such violation, but not less than $50,000 for such violation, except that for an employer with 25 or fewer employees such penalty shall not be less than $25,000 for such violation”.

Civil penalties will also be raised for serious violations from $7,000 to $12,000 for each violation. Of course if this type of violation causes a death the civil penalty will be increased to not more than $50,000 and not less than $20,000 per violation.

By the way the criminal penalties are also being increased. Under current rule an employer could only be sentenced to 6 months for a violation that causes a death (1 year if it is a repeat conviction), but under proposed rules those sentences’ are increased to 10 years and 20 years respectively. Yes employers include “any responsible corporate officer”

If you want to read the entire bill (and it would be a good idea if you are an employer and/or corporate officer) please follow this link:

THE BOTTOM LINE IS – SAFETY IS IMPORTANT and there is going to be emphasis on enforcement so now is the time to get your safety program in shape. If you can do this on your own, great, but if you need professional help give us at Evergreen a call. We have help thousands of business bring their safety program up to speed.

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