Congress Pushes Worker Protective OSHA Reform
The dynamic in Congress has changed a great deal since January and in turn the focus of legislative agenda has changed as well. One of the top priorities for the Democratic Congress is a focus on workers' rights, which includes OSHA Reform. The business community and specifically the construction industry have enjoyed 7 years of a pro-business Congress and Administration until now.
Recently, Senate Health Education and Labor committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and House labor committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) introduced OSHA reform bills and held subcommittee hearings on their respective bills in each chamber. The bills are expected to be similar to the broad OSHA reform bill Kennedy sponsored in previous Congresses. The legislation is meant to address what Kennedy and Miller deem to be shortfalls of OSHA under the Republican controlled Congress and the Administration. The legislation would expand worker protections and add many more employer sanctions.
During the hearing Rep. Millers committee specifically discussed some of the industries hardest hit by ergonomics injuries and respitory diseases. Scott P. Schneider, Director of Occupational Safety and Health Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America testified before the House Committee. In his testimony Mr. Schneider specifically discussed the issue of silica and the disease silicosis. Schneider said, "The measurement methods required by OSHA for measuring silica levels are, by their own admission, "obsolete" and have not been used in voluntary standards since 1983. I'm not even sure how OSHA can enforce the current standard given the problems with measurement methods." Schneider continued "The voluntary standard (TLV) for silica exposures 4 was cut in half again last year for the second time in the past nine years. Yet OSHA's standard is mired in the past." Schneider also addressed the issue of hearing loss in the construction industry.
According to a bill summary Sen. Kennedy's bill, which is also sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), will extend OSHA protections to federal workers and others not currently covered, increase penalties, provide whistleblower protections, increases the public's right to know about safety violations, and clarify that employers are required to provide safety equipment (personal protective equipment) to their workers.
According to various sources Rep. Miller's bill will be similar to Sen. Kennedy's but will very likely include provisions extending beyond those in Kennedy's bill
Senators Kennedy and Murray are circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter, to solicit support for the bill and seek original cosponsors. In a statement from the letter the Senators maintain "There are many things we can and must do to provide greater protections for the nation's workers. More workers deserve to be covered. Stronger enforcement will help eliminate hazardous conditions before, not after, workers are injured or killed. Our Federal agencies should develop better safety standards to address not only existing risks at work, but also the likelihood of future hazards caused by newly-developed chemicals and innovative technologies," the letter states.
Mason Contractors and the Masonry Industry as a whole should brace themselves for a long up hill battle against new cumbersome, arbitrary and far reaching new regulations to be imposed on employers.
About the Author
Jessica Johnson Bennett was the Director of Government Affairs for MCAA. She has an extensive background in public affairs and government relations. Her expertise in strategic planning, PAC management and operations help on key policy issues.