Lawmakers Take Key Step in Protecting Workers From Hazards

July 21, 2010  

Lawmakers Take Key Step in Protecting Workers From Hazards

Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division 

Today, the House Committee on Education and Labor took an important step in protecting America’s workers from occupational hazards. The committee’s passage of the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act (H.R. 5663) clears the way for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. We strongly urge the House and Senate to enact this critical workplace safety legislation before Congress adjourns.

Passage of H.R. 5663 would strengthen the enforcement powers of the watchdog agencies charged with ensuring workplace safety. These agencies, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), currently lack the necessary tools to protect employees and deter bad workplace behavior. The legislation addresses two key areas in particular:

Protecting employees. The bill provides whistleblower protections for employees who alert inspectors or their superiors of unsafe working conditions or who refuse to work in unsafe conditions. The bill also gives employees and victims of workplace injuries or illnesses input during investigations of workplace incidents.

Penalizing employers who endanger employees. The current penalties for mine operators and employers who commit safety violations are too low to act as an effective deterrent against bad behavior. Under current law, OSHA’s fines are not even adjusted for inflation. This bill would increase civil and criminal penalties for violations, reclassifying the most egregious violations as felonies. MSHA would also be given authority to shut down mines that routinely violate safety standards.

These are only a few of the workplace safety improvements that H.R. 5663 would make. Public Citizen commends U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor and a coauthor of the bill, for advancing this bill to protect America’s workers.

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