Senate committee hears testimony on improving safety culture

On the eve of Worker's Memorial Day, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee examined how to strengthen workplace safety enforcement and improve compliance at dangerous workplaces.

During the April 27 hearing, witnesses testified on mine safety and the recent catastrophe at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. While much was made of UBB's owner Massey Energy's safety record and its ability to "game the system," senators also pressed Mine Safety and Health Administration head Joseph A. Main on his agency's actions.

Main said decisions from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission have defined standards in such a way that make it difficult for inspectors to cite a hazard as a significant and substantial violation. He said the agency would start using its "injunctive relief" authority to close mines that continually exhibit hazards, following repeated questions from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) on why MSHA has never done so.

Also at the hearing, OSHA administrator David Michaels said Congress needs to pass the Protecting America's Workers Act (S. 1580) and defended the decision to cut funding for the Voluntary Protection Programs, reiterating OSHA's need to focus its limited resources on employers that fall short of their duty to protect workers.

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