Magazine article Occupational Hazards

What's Wrong with the OSHA Reform Bill?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

What's Wrong with the OSHA Reform Bill?

Article excerpt

Serious efforts are underway in Congress to reform OSHA through amendments to the OSH Act. The Comprehensive Occupational Health and Safety Reform Act empowers employees through the creation of mandatory safety committees, while simultaneously increasing the burden and threat to employers by expanding their criminal liability exposure. This legislation could destroy any semblance of a cooperative relationship between OSHA and employers by forcing that relationship to become more adversarial.

Some of the proposed changes are good ideas. One example is extension of OSHA coverage to federal, state, and local government employees. Another, which arguably has merit -- at least in principle -- is a requirement to abate safety and health hazards posing imminent risks, while, or even if, citations are contested.

These positive changes are overshadowed, though, by more questionable aspects of the legislation. Provisions of the new legislation jeopardize the trust and mutual interest in voluntary compliance that now exists between OSHA regulators and the vast majority of U.S. businesses. Without such voluntary compliance through employer identification and abatement of hazards, the effectiveness of the law will not grow but will suffer enormously.

One way in which the proposed reforms will break down this trust and voluntary behavior is through unilateral employee empowerment on safety and health issues. The legislation requires formation of joint employer/employee safety committees and specifies how employees are to be selected and the number of employees required on such committees. This, combined with a proposed worker's right to contest OSHA citations and penalties he views as too lenient, will ratchet up the levels of confrontation and hostility between business and OSHA by placing employees in a politically adversarial role between the two. Furthermore, this additional party is empowered without being required to assume any responsibility for its own unsafe actions in the workplace. These provisions will act as a discouragement to voluntary compliance, as employers are foced into a police-like system rather than one that provides incentives for voluntary compliance. …

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