Today, Congress took an important step to improve workplace safety. The House Committee on Education and Labor passed the Robert C. Byrd (named after the late Senator from West Virginia) Miner Safety and Health Act. The bill now advances to the House floor where it will hopefully come up for a vote soon. This is an important piece of legislation. David Arkush, director of our Congress Watch division, explained its potential effects in a statement released today:
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.
Workplace safety is an issue that directly affects the majority of citizens. More than 5,000 workers die on the job every year in the U.S. It is an issue that we take very seriously at Public Citizen. We asked Congress last week to pass this sort of bill. We urge both the House and the Senate to continue working to improve and pass this bill as soon as possible. Doing so is (or should be if it is not) in the interests of every citizen.