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OSHA Modernization (Ballenger Bills), June 1999

The issue

Should Congress amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) to continue to redirect the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to focus less on punitive approaches to achieve safety and health and more on encouraging cooperative efforts among OSHA, employers and employees?

Why it's important

In the 105th Congress, the OSH Act was amended to codify OSHA's consultation program for small business and to prohibit enforcement quotas as a means of evaluating an OSHA inspector's performance. Critics of these bills, sponsored by Representative Cass Ballenger (R-NC), claimed that any changes in OSHA's focus on enforcement would lead to an increase in workers' injuries and deaths. In fact, this is not the case. In early 1999, the Department of Labor reported that the rate of injuries and deaths in the workplace had declined.

Motivated by this success, Representative Ballenger is continuing to push for incremental changes in the OSH Act that will further promote voluntary compliance and cooperative efforts in order to promote improved safety and health conditions in the workplace. On April 15th, Representative Ballenger introduced the following bills, which were referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Currently, there are no Senate companion bills.
  • Safety Committees, HR 1434, would permit employer/employee safety and health committees to evaluate and suggest improvements in the safety practices of the workplace, without running afoul of labor relations law.

  • Rulemaking Reform, HR 1436, would require OSHA to identify and give fair notice to industries that are directly impacted by OSHA standards, and to perform cost analyses and risk assessments for each industry as a part of the rulemaking process.

  • Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Implementation Act, HR 1437, would require OSHA to adopt a specific waiver-of-penalties policy for non-serious violations, if the violations are corrected within a time frame set by OSHA.

  • Safety and Health Audit Promotion Act of 1999, HR 1438, would provide limited protection for businesses conducting self-audits, and encourage employers to correct any problems they may uncover.
NRCA's position

NRCA supports all legislation that would genuinely improve workplace safety by encouraging OSHA to focus less on punitive approaches and more on cooperative efforts that promote an open dialogue among OSHA inspectors, employers and employees.

The other side

Critics of OSHA modernization believe that the most effective way of achieving workplace safety is to increase OSHA penalties and fines levied on employers, and mandate one-size-fits-all written safety and health plans for all businesses.

(June 1999)

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