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July 14, 2005 8:20 AM CDT

OSHA Reform Bills Pass the House

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Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed four very important OSHA reform bills by very convincing margins.

The Occupational Safety and Health Small Business Day in Court Act (H.R. 739) passed by a vote of 256-164. This bill gives the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission some flexibility in the application of the 15-day period employers have to contest citations/proposed penalties. The exceptions are based on those available to judges in federal courts and are intended to preserve an employer?s opportunity to make their case on the merits rather than forfeiting because of a ?mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect.?

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission Efficiency Act (H.R. 740) passed by a vote of 234-185. This bill would increase from three to five the number of members sitting on the Review Commission in order to address the common situation in which the commission does not have a quorum and as a result adjudication of cases is delayed.

The Occupational Safety and Health Independent Review of OSHA Citations Act (H.R. 741) passed by a vote of 226-197. This purpose of this bill is to restore Congressional intent that the Review Commission?s interpretations of OSHA?s actions will be given deference, thus restoring it as the independent authority on whether OSHA has acted properly. Current case law gives deference to OSHA?s interpretations of its own actions, thus ensuring that OSHA?s actions will be upheld upon appeal and blocking any chance a small businesses would have to prevail.

The Occupational Safety and Health Small Employer Access to Justice Act (H.R. 742) passed by a vote of 235-187. This legislation will make it easier for small employers (net worth $7 million or less) to recover attorneys? fees when they successfully defend against an OSHA citation.

These bills now move on to the Senate where there passage is anything but assured. Senator Mike Enzi, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Senator Isakson of Georgia, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, have been working together on the bills and hope to move toward a markup in the near future. However, Senator Enzi has made it known that he is still interested in attaching stronger criminal penalty provisions to one of the bills, a move that Senator Isakson opposes. Needless to say, this will definitely keep things interesting and we will have our work cut out for us to beat back efforts by Senator Enzi to forge ahead with his criminal penalty provisions.

If you have any questions about any of these bills, please let me know.


About the Author

Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.

 

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