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On 50th Anniversary of OSHA, Courtney introduces a Bill to Modernize OSHA

Submitted by Patrick Cassidy.

On 50th Anniversary of OSHA and Workers Memorial Day,
Courtney Introduces the Protecting America’s Workers Act—
a Bill to Modernize OSHA for the First Time in 50 Years

NORWICH, CT—Today, on the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and Workers Memorial Day, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) re-introduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act, a bill that would meaningfully strengthen and modernize OSHA for the first time since it was signed into law on April 28th, 1971. Courtney was joined by Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

The Protecting America’s Workers Act would strengthen and modernize the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 by giving OSHA tools to ensure that employers promptly correct hazardous working conditions, protect workers from retaliation when they blow the whistle on unsafe working conditions, and hold employers accountable for violations that cause illness, death or serious injury to workers.

“On the 50th anniversary of OSHA, introduction of the Protecting America’s Workers Act couldn’t come at a better time,” said Rep. Courtney. “The landscape of America’s workforce has changed in so many ways since OSHA was first enacted in 1971—we’ve grown and diversified to a point that our modern economy is almost incomparable to fifty years ago. OSHA has helped protect American workers for generations now. It’s thanks to OSHA that many safety procedures we see today, like latex gloves in hospitals and hard-hats at construction sites, are seen as the norm, but like any law it needs to be modernized to keep up with the realities that workers face on the job. Our bill is focused on updates and compliance, not on petty, punitive measures against employers who are working hard during the recovery, and it will help ensure that today’s workforce—men and women who are also working hard to make it through the pandemic—is empowered and protected by our nation’s most important worker safety law.”

“Today, on Workers Memorial Day, we are called upon to honor the workers who have been killed or injured on the job and to prevent future tragedies by making workplaces safer,” said Chairman Scott. “The Protecting America’s Workers Act makes long overdue improvements to the enforcement provisions of Occupational Safety and Health Act, expands coverage to millions of workers who are currently excluded from the law’s protections, and strengthens whistleblower protections.  These reforms are needed to deter the most serious violations that endanger workers, including exposure to workplace illnesses such as COVID-19 or other deadly workplace hazards. Passing this bill would be a major step toward ensuring our nation’s workers can do their jobs and come home safely to their families at the end of the day.”

“It has never been more important that the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the agency created by its passage, OSHA, provide true safety protections to American workers,” said Congresswoman Adams. “For too long, employers in some of our most dangerous occupations have been able to cut corners and not face true accountability for keeping safe and healthy workspaces. Additionally, new challenges and crises like the COVID-19 pandemic have permanently changed the workplace, making an update all the more necessary. The Protecting America’s Workers Act would change this dynamic, improving crucial recordkeeping, increasing monetary penalties for unscrupulous employers, and putting American workers first.”

The Protecting America’s Workers Act will:

  • Protect millions of workers by expanding OSHA coverage to 8 million state and local government employees in 24 states who currently have no right to a safe workplace.
  • Ensure worker safety is protected by mandating that employers correct hazardous conditions in a timely manner. Currently, there is no obligation for an employer to abate a violation—no matter how serious– while a violation is being litigated, leaving workers in harm’s way for the months or years that it takes for a contested case to be resolved.
  • Reinstate an employer’s ongoing obligation to maintain accurate records of work-related illness and injuries, and reverses a Trump era Congressional Review Act resolution that undermined OSHA’s ability to enforce against employers who violate requirements to record workplace injuries and illnesses.
  • Improve whistleblower protection for workers who face retaliation for calling attention to unsafe working conditions.
  • Update obsolete consensus standards that were adopted when OSHA was first enacted in 1970.
  • Deter “high gravity” violations by providing authority for increased civil monetary penalties for serious or willful violations that cause death or serious bodily injury.
  • Expand injury and illness records that employers are required to maintain and report in order to enable OSHA to more effectively target unsafe workplaces.
  • Authorize felony penalties against employers who knowingly commit OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury and extend such penalties to corporate officers and directors. Maximum criminal penalties—no matter how egregious the conduct–are mere misdemeanors under current law.
  • Require OSHA to investigate all cases of death and serious injuries that occur within a place of employment.
  • Establish rights for families of workers who were killed on the job by giving them the right to meet with OSHA investigators, receive copies of citations, and to have an opportunity to make a statement before any settlement negotiations.
  • Improve protections for workers in state OSHA plans by allowing the Secretary of Labor to assert concurrent enforcement authority in those states where the state OSHA program fails to meet minimum requirements needed to protect workers’ safety and health, as recommended by a 2013 Government Accountability Office report.

Rep. Courtney first introduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act on April 29th, 2015 and has sought to advance the effort in each succeeding Congress. Courtney is a senior member of the House Education and Labor Committee, and has worked across the aisle to protect America’s workforce for years. Recently, Courtney’s bill to help curb workplace violence against health care and social service workers passed the House with historic bipartisan support.

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