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Posts Tagged ‘OSHA’

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As Congress plods through its lame-duck session, the prospects of the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act getting a vote on the House floor are doubtful. In the Senate, they’re nonexistent. Despite the life-saving, job-saving, and even money-saving measures contained in the legislation, the bill will likely die this Congress and the issue of mine and workplace safety will fade from congressional and national consciousness until the next horrific disaster.

In a year where multiple high-profile workplace tragedies–Upper Big Branch Mine, Deepwater Horizon, Tesoro Refinery, Kleen Energy–captured news cycles and Congress’ attention, it is deeply disappointing to watch the prospects for passage dim. Before Congress adjourned in September, the bill passed out of the House Education and Labor Committee and was placed on the calendar for a vote. It has languished since then. In the Senate, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia attempted to bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate but was blocked by Republican Senator Mike Enzi. (more…)

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An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times calls on Congress to take action on pending mine and workplace safety legislation before another tragedy like the Upper Big Branch mine disaster or the Deepwater Horizon explosion occurs.

The House and Senate are each considering similar versions of the “Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act,” legislation that would promote safer workplaces by protecting whistleblowers who report unsafe conditions, increasing penalties for mine and workplace operators who endanger the lives of their workers, and giving the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) more authority to force employers to quickly abate hazardous conditions.

Earlier this summer, the House voted its bill out of committee and it currently awaits a floor vote. As usual, the Senate is moving at a slower pace. Public Citizen has called on Congress to take action to reduce the 5,000 worker fatalities that happen each year by passing this important legislation.

For more information on this legislation, check out our fact sheet, letter to Congress, and backgrounder (all are in PDF format). Or view the text of the House and Senate bills.

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Occupational safety is the number one workplace concern and Congress should pass legislation aimed to protect the health and safety of workers, according to a new poll and study by the National Opinion Research Center and the Public Welfare Foundation.

The study [PDF] found that a safe job site trumps other important labor standards such as maternity leave, minimum wage, the right to join a union, with 85% of respondents rating workplace safety regulations as very important for workers.

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Workers pulled out of the Gulf of Mexico when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last month were greeted by employees from the drilling contractor Transocean with waivers stating that they were not injured in the explosion.

The waivers required workers to state what they were doing at the time of the explosion and state that they were not witnesses to the incident requiring evacuation.

One worker, Chris Choy, told PBS News Hour that “I had been up for almost 40 hours, and just gone through hell. And they want to throw papers in my face for me to sign to take them, you know, out of their responsibility.”

Public Citizen has already pointed out serious problems with BP’s safety record, showing that it repeatedly put workers in dangerous situations.  Just last year, OSHA issued the largest penalty ever – $87.4 million – for failing to fix violations for which it had previously been cited.

But despite multi-million dollar penalties from multiple agencies, BP continued to put its workers in danger.  Last week, Senators Rockefeller and Byrd introduced two amendments to the financial reform bill that would make BP and other companies accountable to shareholders and the public for workplace safety violations.  These amendments would require disclosure of workplace safety violations in a report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Lena Pons is a policy analyst for Public Citizen.

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Yesterday, in honor of Workers’ Memorial Day, President Obama for the first time issued a proclamation observing the day.  Workers’ Memorial Day commemorates the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is charged with protecting workers from safety and health hazards.

Several recent tragedies have drawn significant attention to workplace safety.  On April 5, there was an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners.  And last week, an explosion on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf Coast off Louisiana, in which 11 workers are missing and presumed dead.

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said that Massey Energy, the mine company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine, is “run like it was 1921.” The mine operator had been cited nearly 500 times in 2009 for violations of the Mine Safety and Health Act.  But despite being shut down 61 times since the beginning of 2009, the dangerous conditions at the mine were allowed to continue.

Improvements are needed to both the Mine Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).  In 2008, the House passed the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (S-MINER) Act, but it was not taken up in the Senate.  The S-MINER Act would have increased penalties and given the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) increased authority to shut down mines with a pattern of violations. But there are other problems the S-MINER Act would not address.  One of these problems is the backlog of 16,000 contested citations.

The OSH Act is also woefully out of date.  In a hearing in the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, witnesses discussed the need to update whistleblower protections contained in the Act.  The Protecting America’s Workers Act would upgrade these protections and establish other needed reforms to OSHA.

Lena Pons is a policy analyst at Public Citizen.

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Between the killer whale that drowned a SeaWorld trainer in February to Monday’s tragic mine explosion that killed at least 25 people in West Virginia, stories about workplace hazards have been dominating the airwaves. Luckily, Public Citizen is here to keep track of them.

Our Workplace Health & Safety Digest tracks the latest in occupational policies and hazards, from the Protecting America’s Workers Act (or PAWA) legislation introduced in Congress to fines dished out by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

You can receive roundups of workplace news e-mailed to you and visit our online archive of stories.

Sign up now to stay up-to-date with the nation’s on-the-job happenings.

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