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Our Policy Agenda
1) A stronger OSH Act: The Occupational Safety and Health Act, enacted in 1970, is badly in need of updating and strengthening. Specifically, the Act should be amended to:
- Provide coverage for millions of workers left uncovered by the Act, including state and local government employees, federal employees, and farmworkers.
- Strengthen protections for “whistleblower” to ensure that workers truly enjoy the right to speak up for their health and safety on the job.
- Prohibit the widespread practice of discouraging reporting of injuries.
- Increase the maximum penalties for serious, willful, and repeat violations. Currently these penalties are so low as to make them an ineffective deterrent to unsafe working conditions.
- Allow for felony prosecutions against employers who commit willful violations that result in death or serious bodily injury. Currently criminally negligent behavior by employers can only result in a misdemeanor prosecution.
2) Reform OSHA’s Standard-Setting Process: OSHA’s process of issuing new health and safety standards has become hopelessly bogged down in bureaucracy. The time between the proposal of a standard and its ultimate adoption has stretched for years, even decades, in some cases. This system must be fundamentally reformed in order to allow OSHA to modernize many of its long outdated standards.
3) Adoption of a Federal OSHA “Prevention Standard”: The current OSHA leadership has recognized that the outdated and dysfunctional standard-setting process is not up to the task of protecting worker safety and health. They have proposed adoption of an “Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard,” which would require employers to identify hazards and provide them with the flexibility to determine how to prevent these hazards in their workplaces. This commonsense solution should be adopted, as it already has been in California and several other states.
4) Effective State OSHA Enforcement: Federal OSHA and worker advocates should hold State OSHA programs to strict standards to ensure that their enforcement efforts are at least as effective as federal OSHA, as required by the federal OSH Act. Many of these programs have failed to live up to this promise and must be held accountable.
5) Responsible Contractors on Public Works Projects: State and local governments should adopt policies for the awarding of contracts for public works projects to ensure that only responsible employers with effective safety and health programs are awarded contracts.
6) Strong Protections for Immigrant Workers: State and Federal OSHA offices should ensure that immigrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable to serious workplace hazards, are adequately protected on the job.
7) Serious Protections for Whistleblowers: Several Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits have found that OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection program has failed to achieve its goal. OSHA must take action to ensure that workers who speak up for the job safety and health are protected from retaliation.
8) Adopt long overdue protections from Silica dust: A proposed rule on limiting worker exposure to deadly silica dust has languished for years in the standard-setting process. This standard should be allowed to proceed through the process and be adopted to ensure that no more workers die of silica-related disease.
9) Adequate budgets for federal Safety and Health agencies: OSHA has been chronically underfunded throughout its history, having reached its peak in enforcement capacity in the 1970s. OSHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) should all be allocated sufficient resources to fulfill their missions of protecting America’s workers.
10) Protections for Farmworkers: The federal government should take action to ensure adequate protection for farmworkers. Many agricultural employers are exempt from workplace standards; responsibility for other safeguards, like those for pesticide exposure, is dispersed among the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), OSHA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and state agencies.
11) Reform Workers’ Compensation Programs: Too often, “Workers’ Compensation Reform” has meant taking away injured workers’ legitimate rights to compensation. State legislatures across the country should strengthen, rather than seek to limit, workers’ rights to adequate compensation for on-the-job injuries.
12) Stop “Blame the Worker” Safety Programs: Programs which discourage workers from reporting injuries, either through “safety incentive” programs or through disciplinary practices that punish workers who report injuries, have become widespread. These programs must be eliminated to ensure that federal safety agencies have an accurate count of the true magnitude of the problem of workplace injury and illness.
13) Address Unregulated Hazards: Several serious workplace hazards are not covered by any OSHA regulations, leaving workers vulnerable to serious job injuries and illnesses. Workplace violence, repetitive strain and ergonomic injuries and illnesses, combustible dust, and aerosol infectious agents are just a few of the most serious hazards that require attention from OSHA and employers to ensure that workers’ safety and health is protected.