Federal agencies Legislation Fines/penalties

Bill would direct OSHA to send news of citations to local media

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Washington — Legislation introduced Oct. 20 by House and Senate Democrats would direct OSHA to publicize major workplace safety violations by widely distributing the news to local media outlets and other groups.

Sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), S. 3030 was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. On Oct. 21, Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) introduced H.R. 5664, which was referred to the House Education and Labor Committee. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) are co-sponsors of the Senate bill.

Also known as the Keeping Workers Safe Act, the legislation would amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to require OSHA’s administrator to publicly disclose any enforcement action that carries civil penalties that exceed $60,000 – or involves multiple serious or repeated other-than-serious violations – within seven days of issuing the citation.

In addition, the legislation would require OSHA press releases announcing alleged employer safety violations to be distributed to relevant regional and local newspapers, associated trade or industry organizations, relevant labor organizations, and state and local government entities in the offending employer’s region.

“We need to do all that we can to protect American workers on the job,” Schatz said in a press release. “Publicizing workplace violations holds companies accountable and leads to a safer work environment for everyone. Our bill will standardize this practice.”

In a June 2020 Safety+Health article on a study of OSHA press releases, Duke University labor economist Matthew Johnson contended that one release that announces fines levied against an employer can have the same effect as 210 agency inspections when it comes to future compliance by the offending employer, as well as those in the same industry within a 31-mile radius. Johnson’s research also showed 73% few violations among employers in the same industry within about 3 miles of the offending employer’s location.

 

The study examined a policy launched in 2009 by David Michaels, who led OSHA from 2009 to 2017, to publicize violations that resulted in a fine of at least $40,000. The policy was commonly known as “regulation by shaming.”

Michaels told S+H for the article: “The main thing it did was [raise] OSHA’s visibility. We realized that by issuing press releases where we found serious violations, it would nudge other employers to abate hazards without OSHA having to do additional inspections.”

Edwin Foulke Jr., OSHA administrator from April 2006 to November 2008, agreed that employers who are fined for safety and health violations don’t like the publicity, but said the policy’s results weren’t as far-reaching as the study suggests.

“You can’t just say a press release caused injuries and fatalities to go down in this area or this industry,” he told S+H. “There are too many variables with respect to safety.”

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