House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.

Photos

NEWSROOM

Committee Statement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 16, 2010

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
(202) 225-4527

Kline Statement: Workforce Protections Subcommittee Hearing on “Protecting America’s Workers Act: Modernizing OSHA Penalties”

Thank you Madam Chair. Good morning and welcome to all the witnesses. 

This morning’s hearing is, in congressional terms, a “legislative hearing” – in other words, it’s a direct examination and review of a particular piece of legislation, in this case the Protecting America’s Workers Act. This bill was introduced in April of last year and, since that time, has undergone some fairly substantial revisions. Through today’s hearing, we’ll have an opportunity to review the proposed changes and – I hope – we’ll have a discussion about what other changes may be needed. 

The title of this hearing – and the substance of the legislation – is described as “modernizing OSHA penalties.” Certainly, it’s worthwhile to review penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. But I would suggest that a discussion of workplace safety is incomplete if it only focuses on penalties. 

Witnesses in prior hearings have suggested that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must achieve a balance between compliance assistance and enforcement. No one is suggesting a 50-50 split, but a single-minded focus on punishing individuals after accidents occur is simply the wrong direction for federal policy. 

More appropriately, the focus of OSHA should be on preventing the accidents rather than merely responding to them. A proactive safety approach is one that protects employees from hazards and prevents accidents from happening. The outliers for whom safety is not a concern will find no sympathy before this Committee.  

As with all federal policy, when it comes to workplace safety we must guard against unintended consequences. For instance, one consequence of upending 40 years of legal precedent may be a dramatic increase in litigation over safety and health citations. Litigation helps no one – employers would be forced to spend resources in the court room rather than on safety in the work room. So I think we should ask: Is there another way, a better way, that would not increase litigation? It’s an issue we ought to explore today. 

There are other issues that merit further discussion as well. For instance, some have tried to draw parallels between the Mine Act and the OSH Act. And while it’s true that both laws address workplace health, there are important differences between these two statutes.  

For example, the discussion draft before us today would require hazard abatement similar to the Mine Act. Yet there has been very little discussion about the fact that mine inspectors are required to have requisite experience before becoming inspectors. OSHA does not have an equivalent experience requirement. Many of the performance standards in current regulation apply to highly sophisticated and complex processes, so inspector training or experience may be an area that needs to be more fully examined. 

I would close with a warning about one final unintended consequence – the danger that we could harm the very workers we’re trying to help. Particularly in today’s economic climate, we must ensure efforts to enhance workplaces do not lead to job losses. Policies that impact our workplaces virtually always carry with them a cost, and we must be mindful not to impose any unnecessary or unnecessarily costly new requirements. Workplace safety is an imperative, and every employer must abide by safety and health standards. But Congress should not make it more difficult to keep our workplaces safe and efficient by inserting unnecessary or overly punitive hurdles. 

Again, I thank the gentle lady for holding this hearing and our witnesses for sharing their expertise. I yield back. 

# # #