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Financial reform amendments to expose health and safety violations

In the last several months, there have been a shocking number of workplace tragedies.  On April 2, an explosion at the Tesoro oil refinery in Washington killed five workers.  On April 5, an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners.  And then on April 20, a BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 oil rig workers.

Last week, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller introduced two amendments that would require corporations with high-risk workplaces to disclose health and safety violations in reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

One of the amendments, led by Sen. Byrd, would require disclosure about all high-risk workplaces including violations, pending lawsuits concerning health and safety violations, and negative trends in health or safety conditions.  The other, led by Sen. Rockefeller, would require disclosure from mining companies about serious violations that posed an imminent hazard, or required mine workers to be removed from areas of mines.  Both amendments would require this information be included in reports filed with the SEC.

These amendments would bring much-needed attention to worker safety issues and could potentially create pressure for companies to improve worker health and safety compliance.  Companies that pay penalties for health and safety violations as “the cost of doing business” would be exposed in their SEC filings.

This information would provide investors and analysts with new information that could be used to gauge corporate responsibility.  Companies that repeatedly put their workers in harm’s way would be required to tell their shareholders.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week that it was his goal to finish the financial reform bill this week. Reports suggest he may try to get it done by Friday.  But these amendments would be a powerful addition to the financial reform effort and would bring accountability to corporations that put their workers in danger.

Lena Pons is a policy analyst with Public Citizen.