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Safety Advancement for Employees Act (SAFE Act), May 1999

The issue

Should Congress amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) away from punitive, enforcement activities and towards cooperation with the employer community?

Why it's important

Most employers care about the health and safety of their employees, and even the Department of Labor estimates that 95 percent of employers are striving to create safe workplaces, nevertheless OSHA inspectors rarely leave a worksite without issuing citations. These are often "cheap tickets" that involve paperwork violations.

In the quest for meaningful safety and health improvements in the American workplace, Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Rep. Jim Talent (R-MO) have introduced the Safety Advancement for Employees (SAFE) Act (S 385/HR 1427). These bills focus on changing the way OSHA oversees worker safety by encouraging inspectors to work with employers to achieve safer worksites. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted S 385 out of committee on April 29, and the bill now awaits floor action. The House bill, HR 1427, was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 15.

Key provisions of the bills:
  • Businesses that utilize qualified third-party consultant services to create a safer and healthier worksite would receive an official certificate of compliance and would be exempt from civil penalties for a period of up to two years. (But this would not preclude OSHA from contacting the employer or conducting inspections in response to employee complaints or an accident.)
  • New training requirements would be established for OSHA inspectors.
  • Cooperative agreements (partnerships) between OSHA and employers to encourage the establishment of comprehensive safety and health management systems, as outlined in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, would be codified.
  • Employers would be permitted to establish onsite and offsite drug and alcohol testing programs.
NRCA's position

NRCA supports all legislation that would genuinely improve workplace safety, and particularly the SAFE Act (S 385\HR 1427), because it encourages a cooperative approach between OSHA and employers through increased consultation and technical assistance.

The other side

Opponents of the SAFE Act (OSHA modernization) believe that the best way to encourage employers to make workplaces safer is to increase penalties and give workers authority beyond that recognized by the National Labor Relations Act.

(May 1999)

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