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Legislation to Protect America’s Workers Is Urgently Needed

Friday, April 19, 2013
Press Contacts: 

Dorry Samuels, (508) 277-7997, dorry.samuels@gmail.com

Legislation to Protect America’s Workers Is Urgently Needed

National COSH Welcomes Reintroduction of Bill That Would Enable Regulators to Hold Accountable Negligent Employers

House Democrats’ reintroduction yesterday of the Protecting America’s Workers Act is a necessary and welcome step in ensuring that workers across the country are safe on the job, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) said today.

The legislation, which would strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), would make felony charges possible when repeated and willful violations result in a worker's death or serious injury, and would increase the penalties OSHA can impose on negligent employers.

“The need for a stronger OSH Act was demonstrated this week with the tragic explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH. “When the plant was last inspected by OSHA all the way back in 1985, it was fined only $30 for a serious violation for storage of anhydrous ammonia.”

National COSH commends Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee for reintroducing the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate last month by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

The reintroduction of the House legislation comes just before Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28), which honors workers who have been injured or killed on the job, and dovetails with National COSH’s Workers’ Memorial Week of Action (April 22-28). During the Week of Action, COSH groups and workplace safety advocates across the country will hold events, release reports and share stories and statistics about the prevalence of workplace fatalities.

“Too often, when a worker is hurt or killed on the job, negligent employers get by with nothing more than a slap on the wrist,” O’Connor said. “Congress should pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act to allow workplace safety regulators to bring felony charges and harsher fines against employers found to disregard workers’ safety. As is, fines in response to safety violations hardly act as a deterrent to many employers, which factor in the fines as a cost of doing business.”

The Protecting America’s Workers Act has failed to make it through the legislative process in previous years, despite coordinated efforts by workplace health and safety advocates.

“As much as this legislation is needed, it is likely to face an uphill battle in this Congress,” O’Connor said. “Many in Congress refuse to enact legislation that would impose even modest improvements to existing rules, arguing the ‘regulations kill jobs.’ We believe that it is unsafe jobs that kill workers; and nearly 13 workers continue to die on the job every day as a result.”

National COSH will recommend that Congress pass this legislation in its upcoming report, “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities,” which will be released on April 23 as part of Workers’ Memorial Week of Action. For more information about Workers’ Memorial Week of Action, visit www.workersmemorialweek.org.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) also yesterday introduced the Offshore Oil and Gas Worker Whistleblower Protection Act, which would prohibit employers from retaliating against oil and gas workers who report injuries, unsafe conditions, or violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to an employer or government official. The legislation would also establish a procedure for filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor and provide for back pay, damages, attorney fees and remedies to address the blacklisting of whistleblowers.

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The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health is a federation of local and statewide organizations; a private, non-profit coalition of labor unions, health and technical professionals, and others interested in promoting and advocating for worker health and safety.

To learn more about the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, visit: http://www.coshnetwork.org.