David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, testified before federal lawmakers about the Protecting America's Workers Act, which would bolster the Occupational Safety and Health Act by raising penalties for violators, expanding the rights of victims and their families, and providing coverage to public employees. Sponsored in 2009 by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., Congress has introduced the legislation several times in recent years, but it has failed to gather the support to move forward.
Michaels said stronger OSHA enforcement will save lives and the administration supports the goals and many specific provisions of the act.
"Most employers want to do the right thing," he said. "But many others will only comply with OSHA rules if there are strong incentives to do so. OSHA's current penalties are often not large enough to provide adequate incentives, and we are very low in comparison with those of other public health agencies."
Michaels noted that environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, carry heavier penalties than those under the OSH Act.
Despite his support, Michaels noted that several sections of the legislation would present significant budgetary and workload challenges for OSHA and its support agencies, including the solicitor's office and review commission.
May 3, 2010
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