WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 25, 2016
There are many issues under our jurisdiction that touch workplaces across the country. One of the more important issues is employee health and safety. This is a challenging issue that directly impacts the lives of America’s workers and their families, and one that demands thoughtful and meaningful solutions.
As I said at a hearing last month, we all agree that hardworking men and women should be able to earn a paycheck without risking a serious injury or being exposed to a deadly disease, and every family deserves the peace of mind that their loved ones are safe on the job. There is no one in this room who doubts the need for strong health and safety protections, or that OSHA has a role to play in promoting safe workplaces. Reducing occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities is a priority that crosses party lines, and stretches from the White House to the halls of Congress.
However, there are times when we share a difference of opinion in how to reach that goal. One illness, one injury, or one fatality in the workplace is one too many. That’s why, as a committee, we believe bad actors who cut corners and put workers in harm’s way must be held accountable. At the same time, the administration should work with employers to address gaps in safety in order to prevent injuries and illnesses before they occur.
We also believe health and safety policies should be created with input from the public. Employers and their employees know better than most the unique safety challenges facing their workplaces. If rules coming out of Washington fail to account for those unique challenges, or if they’re too complex and confusing to understand, they won’t deliver the protections workers need. That’s why the rulemaking process should be transparent and allow for public feedback.
Unfortunately, time and again, the Obama administration has pursued a different, more punitive approach. The majority of employers want to do the right thing. But instead of working with those employers to develop proactive safety measures, the agency is focused more on punishing everyone for the actions of a few.
As I said, employers who jeopardize the safety of workers must be held accountable. But the agency’s reactive approach does nothing to help employers understand complicated regulations, and it does nothing to achieve our common goal of preventing tragedies from occurring in the first place.
Several recent changes to OSHA’s injury and illness reporting standards are the latest example of this flawed approach, and the focus of our hearing. These new requirements significantly change who the standards apply to, what needs to be reported, and how and when OSHA must be notified. As is often the case, these changes will create additional layers of red tape—especially for small businesses with limited resources to fully understand complex safety standards. And to make matters worse, the administration has advanced these expansive changes despite broad, public concerns.
One of the most concerning requirements calls for public posting of injury and illness records online without corresponding context. This regulatory scheme designed to shame employers will do little—if anything—to advance the cause of worker safety. What it will do is make it easier for Big Labor to organize, and for trial lawyers to bring frivolous lawsuits. The agency will need to spend millions of dollars on this special interest tool, which will shift scarce resources away from proactive policies to improve safety, such as inspections and compliance assistance programs. And in the process, the agency is jeopardizing the privacy of workers’ personal information. This rule isn’t about serving the best interests of workers—it’s about serving powerful special interests at the expense of workers.
We owe it to working families to hold the administration accountable for its misguided policies and to call on OSHA to take a more responsible, effective, and collaborative approach. This oversight hearing is an important part of that effort and our commitment to protecting the health and safety of America’s workers.
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