A news release from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce asserted that the OSHA package was designed to make sure that OSHA’s “enforcement efforts are fair for small businesses that make good faith efforts to comply with all health and safety laws.”
The announcement said that the reform package was designed “to remove the arbitrary and unintentional ‘legal traps’ in current OSHA law that hamstring better trust and voluntary cooperation between the agency and employers.”
The news release said the bills include:
- The Occupational Safety and Health Small Business Day in Court Act (HR 739) gives the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) additional flexibility to make exceptions to the 15-day deadline for employers to file responses to OSHA citations when a small business misses the deadline by mistake or for good reason.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission Efficiency Act (HR 740) increases the membership of OSHRC from three to five members to ensure citation cases are reviewed in a timely fashion. Because a quorum of two (of the three) commissioners is needed for decisionmaking, OSHRC has in the past been unable to act.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Independent Review of OSHA Citations Act (HR 741) restores independent review of OSHA citations by clarifying that OSHRC is an independent judicial entity given deference by courts that review OSHA issues. “The bill restores the original system of checks and balances intended by Congress when it enacted the OSHA law and ensures that OSHRC and not OSHA would be the party who interprets the law and provides an independent review of OSHA citations,” the announcement said.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Small Employer Access to Justice Act (HR 742) “encourages OSHA to better assess the merits of a case before it brings unnecessary enforcement actions to court against small businesses.” Under current law, the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) allows small business owners to recover attorneys’ fees if the owner successfully challenges a workplace safety citation. However, if OSHA can establish that its enforcement action was “substantially justified” or the result of “special circumstances,” small businesses can be refused attorneys’ fees even if OSHA loses the case in court.
“These OSHA reform bills represent critical steps toward improving working safety and leveling the playing field for small businesses by giving them new tools to fight unjust OSHA citations,” said Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman Representative Charlie Norwood (R-Georgia) “Small employers should be spending their time creating new jobs and providing safe workplaces, and less on dealing with unending OSHA-related litigation and the escalating attorneys’ fees that result.”