Sen. Franken Reintroduces OSH Act Reform Bill

By Roy Maurer May 6, 2015
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The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act is once again in the crosshairs for reform.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., introduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act April 28, 2015 which proposes significant amendments to the 45-year-old law.

Similar legislation to reform the OSH Act has been introduced in the past several congresses. The bill would expand OSH Act coverage to public-sector workers; increase penalties, including making felony charges available for certain repeat or willful violations; amend the general duty clause to include all workers on a worksite, including contractors; and guarantee workers and families the right to meet with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigators.

“Our workforce and workplaces have changed significantly in 45 years, but our laws have not kept pace,” Franken said on the Senate floor. “We’ve made no real updates to our workplace safety laws even though thousands of workers die every year on the job, many in large industrial disasters that could be prevented. Unfortunately, too often, we’re told that we can’t afford to strengthen our workplace safety laws,” he said.

Franken went on to state that the bill would increase the number of workers covered by safe workplace regulations and make it harder to violate workplace safety laws; protect whistle-blowers “who bravely speak out about unsafe work conditions for themselves, their co-workers, and their families;” protect the public’s right to know about safety violations and OSHA investigations; and “help us track and respond to workplace safety issues by requiring tracking of worker injuries.”

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Cover more workers. Over 8.5 million American workers are not covered currently by OSHA’s protections. These include federal, state and local public-sector employees, and some private-sector workers such as flight attendants.
  • Increase penalties for violations. Under current law, an employer may be charged at most with a misdemeanor when a willful violation of the OSH Act leads to a worker’s death. The bill makes felony charges available for an employer’s repeated and willful violations of the OSH Act that result in a worker’s death or serious injury. The bill also updates the law’s civil penalties—which have been unchanged since 1990—and sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker’s death caused by a willful violation.​
  • Update whistle-blower provisions. The OSH Act’s whistle-blower provisions have not been updated since their adoption in 1970.
  • Improve public accountability and transparency. The bill mandates that OSHA investigate all cases of death or serious incidents of injury in the workplace. It would give workers and their families the right to meet with OSHA investigators after an incident. It also requires employers to inform workers of their OSH Act rights.
  • Amend the general duty clause to include all workers on the worksite, including contractors.
  • Direct OSHA to revise regulations for site-controlling employers so that a site log must be kept for all recordable injuries and illnesses among all employees on the worksite, including contractors.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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