Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Lawmakers Face Formidable Safety Agenda

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Lawmakers Face Formidable Safety Agenda

Article excerpt


Congress takes on the subtleties of indoor air pollution, the tragedies associated with construction, and the ravages of hazardous waste.

Amid the tumult and the shouting certain to surround the OSH Reform Act this year, don't overlook these three key safety, health, and environmental proposals that will be brought before Congress:

* Construction Safety, Health, and Education Improvement Act.

* Indoor Air Quality Act.

* Reauthorization of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The construction safety bill has been kicking around Congress for some time, but it may have finally crossed midfield last July when the House Education and Labor Committee reported a bill, H.R. 1063, by a straight party-line vote of 25 to 14.

The bill's author, Rep. Joseph M. Gaydos (D, Pa.), then offered a substitute bill, reportedly designed to alleviate the objections to the bill raised by Republican panelists. The bill was modified to give the Secretary of Labor more regulatory authority, rather than resorting almost exclusively to legislative authority, but the Republican panelists continued their opposition to the measure. Said one Republican Congressional aide: "The changes have been minor in substance; they...lack specificity and flexibility."

Several contractors' associations also continued to oppose the construction bill. Cynthia Witkin, director of congressional relations/labor for the Associated General Contractors of America, called the changes in the substitute bill "cosmetic" and noted that 24 amendments offered by ranking Republican member Rep. Paul Henry (R, Mich.) were "quickly voted down by the Democratic majority."

Gaydos' overture to his bill's opponents may have arisen because the threat of a veto lurks, and two-thirds majorities are needed to override vetos.

Numbers Game

In a letter to Rep. William Ford (D, Mich.), placed in the hearings record, Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin said her department "strongly opposes" both H.R. 1063 and the substitute bill.

Martin said that the Labor Department preferred administrative reform to legislative reform. After completing a wide-ranging critique on the Gaydos measure, Martin concluded by saying that "if H.R. 1063 were presented to the President, I would recommend to the President that he exercise his veto authority...."

In crafting a construction safety bill on the Senate side, a possible veto has to be reckoned with also. Bipartisan support is the name of the game for passage of any Senate bill because of the Democrats' closely held (53 to 47) majority.

A congressional source said that the Senate labor committee is currently seeking to build that support. They're aware of the Administration's opposition to the House bill on the grounds of vague definitions, excessive reporting requirements, a plethora of paperwork, and a high administrative price tag. What they haven't decided, according to source, is what strategies to adopt in dealing with these objections.

One thing remains certain to come up along the way: the introduction of proposed amendments to ensure employee accountability and employee drug testing. Those issues have been raised in debate and markup of previous construction safety bills and have been pushed hard by some influential employers, groups who cling to them despite indifferent success.

Robb MacKie, assistant director of government relations for the American Subcontractors Assn. (ASA), said that "ASA is adamant on the need in construction safety legislation for three things: better education of employees by OSHA; shared responsibility for safety by worker and employer; and a substance abuse provision."

The Senate bill, S. 673, introduced by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D, Conn.), is similar in most respects to the House bill, but the Dodd bill is described, usually by people who oppose both bills, as the "more flexible" of the two, yet not so flexible as to win their support. …

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