Congress Debates Mandatory Committees

Article excerpt

After nearly four months of inactivity, Congress stepped up the pace on the Comprehensive Occupational Safety and Health Reform Act (COSHRA). The House and Senate held a series of five hearings in July on the bills (H.R. 1280 and S. 575), which were reintroduced in early spring.

The most contentious points of debate centered around provisions that would mandate joint safety and health committees and written safety programs. Capturing the sentiment of a majority of industry representatives who testified at the hearings, Fred Toca, director, occupational health, Hoechst Celanese Corp., told the House Sub-committee on Labor Standards and Occupational Safety and Health that requirements in H.R. 1280 are too prescriptive. Speaking on behalf of the Chemical Manufacturers Assn. (CMA), Toca said CMA endorses the concept of safety committees, but argued that Congress should not mandate them.

According to Toca, employee participation is "critical to a successful health and safety program." Yet, he said, companies must be able to tailor a system that fits a facility's individual needs. At Hoechst Celanese, he said, each of the 32 facilities has a different mechanism for employee participation. COSHRA, he said, would not allow for such flexibility.

Subcommittee chair Austin Murphy (D, Pa.) said recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings may present a slight roadblock to mandating safety and health committees. Referring to the December 1992 Electromation ruling, Murphy said, "We don't want to get employers in trouble." In that decision, the NLRB said employer-dominated committees are illegal.

At a Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee hearing the same day, officials from Oregon testified that mandated committees have "raised the level of consciousness" for safety and health and have had a positive effect in the workplace.

John Pompei, administrator, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Div., said that giving employees a voice in safety and health issues does not inhibit management's ability to govern the workplace. Rather, he said, committees help form "a proactive unit to prevent the very tragic and costly accidents that occur in the workplace. …