Democrats push for ten-fold increase in OSHA penalties
The wide-ranging package of Democratic social spending priorities that passed the House in November and is pending in the Senate would increase the maximum penalty to $70,000 for a serious workplace violation and to $700,000 for a willful or repeated violation. The current top fines for those categories are $13,653 and $136,532.
The legislation would also provide OSHA with $707 million to enforce its penalties.
OSHA floats heat standard proposal
OSHA has issued an advance notice of proposal rulemaking on heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings—the first step in developing a federal heat stress standard (86 FR 59309). The document contains 114 questions about a potential standard but no proposed regulatory text.
The agency is asking the public for information about heat-related issues it should consider in developing a standard, including the scope and application of the standard and what types of controls should be required. Comments are due December 27.
There is no current federal heat stress or heat illness prevention standard. OSHA investigates heat-related complaints, fatalities, and hospitalizations and has cited employers under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington have permanent or emergency temporary heat stress standards. The advance notice includes summaries of the state standards and the worksites covered; triggering thresholds; and water, shade, break, acclimatization, training, response plan, medical monitoring, and recordkeeping requirements for each state.
The heat standard likely would apply to both indoor and outdoor work settings.
New OSHA chief Parker will draw on Cal/OSHA experience
In late October, the U.S. Senate voted 50-41 to confirm Douglas Parker to lead OSHA. He takes on a role that has been vacant since January 2017.
Parker previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration and was a member of the Biden-Harris transition team. Notably, he is the immediate-past chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).
According to Karen Tynan, a shareholder in Ogletree Deakins’ Sacramento office who leads the firm’s West Coast workplace safety and health practice, Parker’s previous tenure at Cal/OSHA will inform future trends for OSHA. “Take a look back over the last few years in California, and you have a pretty good idea of where Fed/OSHA is headed,” Tynan said.
Kevin Bland, a shareholder in Ogletree Deakins’ Orange County, California, office and a member of the firm’s Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group, also anticipates this trend. “I have worked with Doug Parker for many years, and I expect his focus at Fed/OSHA will continue to be on health policies similar to that of what we have seen under his direction at Cal/OSHA,” said Bland. “I expect we will see Fed/OSHA begin to align more closely with Cal/OSHA’s approach to enforcement and policies under Mr. Parker’s direction.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Representative Andy Levin (D-Mich.) to introduce new legislation to keep workers safe by requiring the publication of workplace violations. The Keeping Workers Safe Act directs OSHA to announce major violations by companies and distribute them to local media and related labor and trade organizations, a practice which has been shown to boost workplace safety.
A recent Duke University study found that one OSHA press release on a major violation resulted in the equivalent compliance measures of 210 inspections. Based on the number of serious violations found each year, the effectiveness of OSHA inspections could therefore be doubled by mandating these notices. The study, which appeared in the American Economic Review, examined OHSA releases sent to local newspapers, finding a direct association between their being issued and improved workplace compliance. It has been estimated that workplace injuries cost $2.5 billion annually.
The Keeping Workers Safe Act would amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to require the OSHA Administrator to publicly disclose civil penalties greater than $60,000 or multiple serious or repeated violations within seven days of a citation being issued. It would require these disclosures to be submitted to relevant regional and local newspapers, trade or industry organizations, labor organizations, and State and local government entities in the region where the employer is located.
The Keeping Workers Safe Act is supported by the National Employment Law Project, the Center for American Progress, UNITED HERE, and Teamsters.