Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA Reform: Labor's Measure Emerges

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA Reform: Labor's Measure Emerges

Article excerpt

Osha Reform:Labor's Measure Emerges

At press time, the long awaited introduction in Congress of an OSHA reform bill was imminent. Though the proposal isn't in final form as yet, its principal architects at the AFL-CIO have spelled out its contents as they await completion of the bill's crafting by the labor committees in the House and Senate.

According to AFL-CIO officials, key provisions will include:

* The employee's right-to-act.

* Mandatory joint management-labor safety and health committees at the worksite.

* Workers' right to contest OSHA citations and penalties, if they regard enforcement as too lenient.

* Speedup of OSHA's response to serious hazards.

* Restrictions on the role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the standards-setting process.

* Improvement of data collection on occupational injuries, illness, and deaths by requiring employers to report these incidents immediately.

* Allocation of more resources to OSHA enforcement and imposition of tougher criminal penalties for employer safety violations.

* Increased funding for NIOSH and establishment of a national surveillance program to determine the extent of occupational diseases.

* Expansion of the law's coverage to encompass all workers.

When asked by an Occupational Hazards editor if the foregoing constituted a wish list, Jay Power, a legislative representative for the AFL-CIO, replied: "No, I don't think of it as a wish list, I think of it as a consensus that evolved over a period of a year."

Power said he expects the remainder of this year to be given over to the "education of Congress" and "to careful consideration" of OSHA reform.

He doesn't underrate the enormity of the task confronting Congress. "Opening the OSH Act is going to be a major effort of the magnitude of the reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, but it must be done," he said.

His colleague, Margaret Seminario, AFL-CIO director of safety and health, agreed. "With the exception of the Schweiker bill [which failed of enactment] in 1980, there has been no effort to substantively amend the OSH Act during the 20 years of its existence," she said. "That means most of the folks on Capitol Hill haven't analyzed or crafted a major safety and health bill. So, at least for the remainder of this year, hearings and briefings will be held as part of the educational process. It may be two or three years before enactment of an OSHA reform bill."

Agree to Disagree

Business spokesmen agree with their labor counterparts about the timetable that promises ultimately to bring the legislation to a floor vote, but they agree about little else.

Though business organizations haven't taken a formal position on the bill, and won't until it is introduced in Congress, their responses to our questions indicate that some aspects of the measure will be vigorously opposed. Washington attorney Scott Railton, who represents management clients in OSHA rulemaking and enforcement proceedings, said that he would counsel clients, at all costs, to oppose the right-to-act, mandatory joint management-labor safety and health committees, and permitting OSHA inspectors to red-tag machines. Railton contends that, in crafting the OSH Act in 1970, Congress made clear its intent not to confer right-to-act powers on employees. At that time, Railton said, Congress similarly rejected mandatory joint safety and health committees and the immediate shutdown of dangerous operations by OSHA inspectors. …

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