Friday, February 18, 2005

OSHA Plans to Pay Employers Who Kill Their Employees

Washington D.C. -- In response to criticism of the low $5,800 penalty handed down to K&M Construction for killing a worker, John Duesler, last July in an unprotected 9 foot deep trench, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor Jonathan Snare suggested today that the Bush administration may ask Congress to change the Occupational Safety and Health Act to enable OSHA to start paying employers who kill their workers instead of investigating accidents and levying fines.

In an exclusive interview this afternoon, Snare explained:

Let's just look at the bottom line for a minute. OSHA spent significantly more than $5,800 to investigate this tragic death, write a report, determine a penalty, get it approved by our attorneys -- and now the company is contesting the citation, which means we'll have to put more resources into arguing the case before an administrative law judge. We're losing money on this transaction.

So I'm suggesting we just give the company $1,000 if they promise to follow the law and distribute our new trench safety cards to their employees. If they want to use the money to contribute to the victim's burial expenses or his childrens' scholarship fund, even better. We'll sign the company up in the Voluntary Protection Program or start an Alliance or something.

When asked why OSHA didn't just raise their fines if they lose money on cases like this, Snare objected that a heavy penalty could force the company out of business. "They provide much needed jobs to this community and you're asking us to destroy peoples' livelihoods. I find it curious that liberal Democrats complain about high unemployment, but then promote policies that drive small businesses into bankruptcy."

John Graham, who heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), said that his office wasn't finished evaluating the proposal, "But it certainly appears to meet our cost-benefit criteria."

Congressional Republicans expressed approval. "It's a win-win proposal," said one Congressman who did not want to be named. "We shouldn't be punishing companies when workers are killed in freak accidents. We should be providing assistance to improve working conditions and create more jobs. That's why this country elected George W. Bush for another four years."

Snare also suggested that the administration will ask Congress to change the law to allow OSHA to provide a 15 day notice to companies before OSHA inspects a worksite following a complaint.

"It would demonstrate a collaborative working environment, something that should strengthen compliance because we are working together to enhance safety," Snare said.

Providing advance notice to employers about OSHA inspections is currently a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, punishable by fines and imprisonment. Snare called that provision "an anachronism left over from the bad old days when there was still an adversarial relationship between OSHA and employers."

(And an early April Fools to you too. Or.....?)