Saturday, May 08, 2004

House Republicans Pass OSHA Weakening Bills in Committee

Full Speed Backwards

The House Education and the Workforce Committee passed four bills last week authored by Republicans to further weaken the OSH Act. All of the bills were introduced last year by Georgia Congressman Charlie Norwood, who has made a career out of terrorizing school children with tales of how OSHA's bloodborne disease standard killed the tooth fairy.

In summary, the bills are:
  • HR 2728, Contesting Citations, would extend the time period allowed to challenge a citation if an employer accidentally misplaces the citation or his dog eats it. (I'm suggesting that they also pass a bill allowing me extra time when I forget to pay my parking tickets or taxes).

  • HR 2729--OSHA Commission, which would stack expand the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC). OSHRC, you may remember is the same commission that just told OSHA it could no longer issue egregious citations

  • HR 2731, Attorney Fees, which would require OSHA to pay all court costs when it loses a case against a small business. The bill encourages the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to better assess cases before bringing "unnecessary enforcement actions to court against small businesses," according to a committee summary.

    "Unnecessary" enforcement actions are not exactly the problem that OSHA is having, according to everyone except the businesses that get caught endangering workers (and, of course, the associations that represent them.) The idea behind this gem is to assure that small businesses are “not forced into settlement when they believe OSHA is wrong, just because it is the most cost-effective option available.”

    As I've mentioned before, while I was at OSHA, there were numerous times when OSHA was reluctant to cite an employer – especially for poor ergonomic conditions – because the business – with the help of the Chamber of Commerce and other business associations – had much more money to spend on appealing the case than OSHA had to defend it.

  • HR 2730, Independent Review which clarifies that the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission is an independent judicial entity and makes clear that the commission, and not OSHA (which it said is the prosecutor in certain disputes), would be the party that interprets the law and provides an independent review of OSHA citations.
Because of the predictable straight party line vote the only "excitement" came from a pair of amendments offered by Democrats, one which would have raised the minimum wage, and the other that would have attached the Corzine bill. The Republicans declared them both "non-germane" and everyone went home.

Ultimately, the whole thing was just an exercise in legislative masturbation. Even if the whole House or Representatives passes the bills, no similar bills have been introduced in the Senate.