WASHINGTON, D.C. | October 29, 2009
Opening Statement of Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Senior Republican Member
Worker safety and health are among the most fundamental concerns of every employer in this country. No worker wants to risk illness or injury on the job – and no employer wants that risk either.
Recognizing that different states have different workplace needs, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act allows states to create their own state-run safety and health programs, subject to federal OSHA’s approval and monitoring. Currently 22 states and jurisdictions – including my home state of Minnesota – operate complete state plans that cover both public and private-sector workers. Several other states have plans that cover only public sector workers, leaving federal OSHA to inspect the private sector in those states.
State workplace safety plans can be extremely effective. According to the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association, state plans are able to inspect more workplaces more effectively than the federal government, are considered more flexible than federal OSHA, and can foster safety innovation that is not always available at the federal level.
Unfortunately, not every state plan is reaching its full potential to enhance protections for workers. And one state plan in particular has been found to fall far short, putting the lives of workers at risk.
We’ll hear this morning from OSHA about its recent review of the Nevada state plan. I know concerns about workplace safety are being taken very seriously by that state’s leaders, and I welcome OSHA’s efforts to identify weaknesses in Nevada’s safety programs so the necessary steps can be taken to protect workers.
I’d like to read briefly from a statement submitted by Nevada’s governor, Jim Gibbons:
“I affirm my strong commitment to worker safety in Nevada and believe that our workers’ safety can best be ensured by a plan that is developed and managed at the state level, adhering to and exceeding federal standards, rather than one designed and operated from Washington.”
Governor Gibbons has put his finger squarely on our challenge. In evaluating state OSHA systems, our goal must be to preserve the flexibility and responsiveness of state plans – which, in many instances, actually exceed federal safety requirements – while ensuring adequate oversight for those plans that are not effectively protecting workers.
Workplace safety is not a partisan endeavor, and I hope we approach this issue with the recognition that a safe workplace is good for business. With that in mind, our efforts to promote workplace safety should focus on enhancing what works, fostering collaboration, and emphasizing prevention to avoid the types of tragic accidents we’ll hear about today.
I want to thank our witnesses, and especially the family members of those whose lives were lost on the job. I thank you for sharing your story so that we can take steps to prevent other families from suffering the way you have.
Opening Statement of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Senior Republican Member, Subcommittee on Workforce Protections
I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I join my colleagues in thanking the witnesses for being here to share their personal stories and professional expertise about the Nevada state OSHA plan. I also want to extend my sincere condolences to those who have lost family members in workplace accidents, in Nevada and across the nation. We appreciate your efforts to prevent others from suffering as you have.
Workplace safety is a shared responsibility, and one that must be taken very seriously. Employers work every day to prevent illness and injury among their workers. To do that, they rely on – and are held accountable to – occupational safety and health guidelines implemented at the state level, the federal level, or both.
As we will hear today, federal OSHA has identified a number of deficiencies in Nevada’s state plan that must be corrected immediately. And, I’m pleased state officials are dedicating resources to improving their program.
I believe effective state plans have the potential to significantly enhance workplace safety. State plans must meet federal standards at a minimum, but they can also exceed federal standards, as well as allow more flexibility to address individual workplace needs. My home state of Washington is a state plan state. The state plan has had many successes through various partnerships between business and labor. For example, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act requires the creation of an Advisory Board, consisting of both employers and employees. This advisory board is responsible for commenting on all policies, regulations, and guidelines that affect workplace health and safety. The state plan recognizes the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention Program that encourages a collaborative approach to developing and testing innovative policies. Moreover, a safety and health grant program administered by WISHA provides funding for safety projects supported by both employers and employees.
While I recognize that this is just one state, it illustrates why efforts to respond to weaknesses in the Nevada system should not disregard a model that has worked well in other states. In fact, more than two dozen states are fully or partially responsible for their workers’ safety through state OSHA plans. These plans have benefits that include increased inspections, enhanced flexibility, and greater access to innovative strategies for making job sites safer.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what steps can be taken to immediately correct weaknesses in the Nevada plan and to engage in a broader dialogue about the role state plans can play in making our workplaces safer.
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