Subcommittee hosts hearing on OSHA penalties

March 18, 2010

Proposed legislation that would increase penalties for safety and health violations could offer a greater incentive for employer compliance -- or lead to a reduction in workplace safety, witnesses asserted at a congressional hearing this week.

The House Education and Labor Committee's Workforce Protections Subcommittee hosted a hearing Tuesday on penalty provisions in the Protecting America's Workers Act (H.R. 2067).

Expressing his support for the bill, OSHA administrator David Michaels noted that the maximum fine the agency can assess in a fatal workplace incident is much lower than the fines issued for violations of environmental law. Increased OSHA penalties would allow the agency to send a stronger message to employers regarding compliance, he testified.

Calling the goals behind the legislation "laudable," attorney Jonathan Snare testified on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that higher fines could have "unintended consequences" such as a higher rate of contested citations, which could clog the system and delay resolving cases. Further, Snare said, penalties are "after-the-fact" reactions that do not assist employers in understanding their safety and health obligations.