Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Norwood’s Cluster Bomb: Mini-Anti-OSHA Bills

Figuring his chances of making “progress” are better with many small bills than with one big bill, Representative Charlie Norwood (R-GA) has broken down his “OSHA Fairness Act of 2003” into several smaller bills which will be brought up for “mark-up” on Thursday. Mark-up is when the committee considers amendments to bills and then votes on them. Norwood, who once accused OSHA of killing the toothfairy when it issued the bloodborne pathogens standard, has made it a personal crusade to castrate the agency.

Norwood’s bill (see here and here) would have provided new “tools” to employers to fight OSHA citations. The most controversial part of the bill, an amendment to the OSHAct’s definition of a willful citation, has been dropped for now. Instead, Norwood is proposing four bills: HR
2728-- --Contesting Citations (extending the time period allowed to challenge a citation if an employer accidentally misplaces the citation or his dog eats it) HR 2729--OSHA Commission (which would expand – stack -- the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission);HR 2730--Independent Review and HR 2731--Attorney Fees (which would require OSHA to pay all court costs when it loses a case against a small business).

Things I don’t get:

All of you faithful readers of Confined Space notice how I periodically list fatalities that I’ve found in newspapers on the web. Most of these are unfortunately common ways to die in the workplace – falls, trench collapses, welding incidents, electrocutions…. All preventable, well known hazards, covered by straight-forward, well known OSHA standards. But workers keep dying from these same well-known hazards, hundreds every week.

So what’s the problem? Employers don’t have enough information? Maybe they need more guidelines and warnings? Bushit. What’s clearly needed is a large enough budget (and the political will) to fund more enforcement, more inspectors, more worker training, higher fines and time in jail.

Let’s put all of this in perspective. According to Rummy, we’re spending $4 billion a month in Iraq – and that’s just what they’re admitting to. So, let’s see. That’s something like 9 to 10 times the entire OSHA annual budget each month. And far more Americans die each month of fatal workplace injuries than have been killed during the entire Iraq war. And there are far more chemical and biological weapons threatening American workers every day in our factories, chemical plants and hospitals than we’ve found in Iraq.

And while we’re at it, what ever happened to the tuberculosis standard (oh yeah), the PPE Payment standard, and the reactives revision to the Process Safety Standard?

But no, Charlie Norwood and his little committee focus instead on some red-herring anecdotal stories about oppressed small businesses while workers continue to die because OSHA can't get to enough workplaces.

It’s enough to make me want to call Congress. Speaking of which, see that box on the right hand side of this page. Here are the members of the committee. You know what to do.


Charles Norwood (GA)
Judy Biggert (IL)
Cass Ballenger (NC)
Pete Hoekstra (MI)
Johnny Isakson (GA)
Ric Keller (FL)
John Kline (MN)
Marsha Blackburn (TN)


Major Owens (NY)
Ranking Minority Member
Dennis Kucinich (OH)
Lynn Woolsey (CA)
Denise Majette (GA)
Donald Payne (NJ)
Tim Bishop (NY)

As a matter of fact, call you congressional representatives even if they're not on the committee. Tell them you're tired of people dying in the workplace while Bush gives tax cuts to his friends. Or better yet, take a delegation and go visit them when they're on break next month. I'm sure they'll be glad to hear from you.

Other Congressional News

PPE Standard

The FY 2004 House Labor Appropriations Bill includes language criticizing OSHA for its “lack of progress” on issuing its “payment for PPE” standard that would require employers to pay for personal protective equipment that is required by OSHA standards. This rule was on the verge of completion when Bush took over. The UFCW and Congressional Hispanic Caucus have petitioned OSHA for its immediate issuance.

The committee stated that it was especially concerned because of the growing rate of deaths and injuries among Hispanic workers.

Along with inclusion of language urging OSHA to issue an airborne disease standard, this makes for a very interesting Appropriations report.

OSHA Budget

The bad news is that the House would provide $300,000 less to OSHA in FY 2004 than in 2003. The good news is that the Senate bill provides for $13 million more for OSHA and the Senate is expected to prevail. The House bill would provide for drastic cuts in OSHA’s training grant program, while the Senate bill, for the third year in a row, requires OSHA to continue to fully fund its Susan Harwood Grant Program.