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