House Democrats Move to Update, Expand OSHA

April 24, 2009 ( - House Democrats have introduced legislation that they claim would "help the nation's health and safety agencies to hold unscrupulous employers accountable for exposing their workers to preventable hazards."

According to an  announcement , Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee, led by U.S. Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-California), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, say that the Protecting America’s Workers Act of 2009 would “strengthen OSHA by expanding coverage to millions of workers who are currently unprotected or inadequately protected, increasing civil and criminal penalties for those who violate the law, and by protecting those who blow the whistle on unsafe employer practices.”  

Bill Provisions

Among other provisions, the bill:

  • Expands OSHA coverage to include state and local public employees and federal government workers.
  • Expands coverage to millions of other workers inadequately covered such as airline and railroad employees, and Department of Energy contractors. 
  • Raises civil penalties and indexes those penalties to inflation.  
  • Establishes mandatory minimum penalties for violations involving worker deaths. 
  • Allows felony prosecutions against employers who commit willful violations that result in death or serious bodily injury, and extends such penalties to responsible corporate officers.    
  • Requires OSHA to investigate all cases of death and serious injuries (i.e. incidents that result in the hospitalization of 2 or more employees).
  • Codifies regulations that give workers the right to refuse to do hazardous work.  
  • Clarifies that employees cannot be discriminated against for reporting injuries, illnesses or unsafe conditions, and brings the procedures for investigating and adjudicating discrimination complaints into line with other safety and health and whistleblower laws.
  • Provides workers and employee representatives the right to contest OSHA’s failure to issue citations, classification of its citations, and proposed penalties. 
  • Gives injured workers, their families and families of workers who died in work-related incidents the right to meet with investigators, receive copies of citations, and to have an opportunity to make a statement before any settlement negotiations.
  • Clarifies that the time spent by an employee accompanying an OSHA inspector during an investigation is considered time worked, for which a worker must be compensated. 
  • Prohibits OSHA from designating a citation as an “unclassified citation” where an employer can avoid the potential consequences of a “willful” violation, the most serious violation. 
  • Allows any worker or their representative to object to a modification or withdrawal of a citation, and entitles them to a hearing before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Hearing Scheduled

On April 28, Workers’ Memorial Day (a day to commemorate workers who have been killed on the job and to recommit to making workplaces safer, according to the announcement), the Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on “whether OSHA penalties are sufficient to deter health and safety violations.”

Said Representative Woolsey “I look forward to working with Chairman Miller and my colleagues on the committee to pass this legislation, and to partnering with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to ensure that every American worker gets the protections that they deserve.”

“Beginning last Congress, we conducted a systematic examination of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and their ability to protect workers. We found that far too many employers were subject to a slap on the wrist or even let off the hook when they put their employee in danger,” said Congressman George Miller (D-California), chairman of the full committee.