WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 1, 2017
America’s workers deserve responsible, commonsense regulatory policies to ensure safe and healthy working conditions.
They deserve a federal government that holds bad actors accountable, and a government that takes proactive steps to help employers improve safety protections and prevent injuries and illnesses before they occur. Just as importantly, they deserve to know federal agencies are following the law.
For years, Republicans have called on OSHA to reject a top-down approach to worker protections and instead collaborate with employers to identify gaps in safety and address the unique challenges facing workplaces.
Unfortunately, under the Obama administration, our concerns usually fell on deaf ears. In fact, one of the administration’s parting gifts to workers and small businesses was a regulatory scheme that reflects not only a backwards, punitive approach to workplace safety — but one that is completely unlawful.
Here’s why. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act
, employers have long been required to record injuries and illnesses and retain those records for five years. The law explicitly provides a six-month window under which OSHA can issue citations to employers who fail to maintain proper records. This approach helps ensure workplace hazards are addressed in a timely manner.
However, in 2006, OSHA took action against Volks Constructors for recordkeeping errors that occurred well beyond what the law allows. The errors were from nearly five years earlier. That is why a federal appeals court unanimously rejected OSHA’s overreach. The opinion for the court stated: “We do not believe Congress expressly established a statute of limitations only to implicitly encourage the Secretary to ignore it.” Even President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Garland, agreed OSHA’s action was “not reasonable.”
What came next was an outright power grab. OSHA decided to take its unlawful action one step further. This time it would not only ignore the law, but rewrite it. The agency finalized the “Volks” rule, unilaterally extending the statute of limitations from six months to five years.
The agency created significant regulatory confusion for small businesses. Many would likely face unwarranted litigation because of unlawful regulatory policies. Of course, further judicial scrutiny also means hardworking taxpayers will foot the bill when OSHA is forced to defend its lawless power grab once again.
Simply put, OSHA had no authority to do this. We have a Constitution that grants Congress — not federal agencies — the power to write the law. But that’s not the only reason we are here today. We are also here because this rule does nothing to improve workplace safety.
Maintaining injury and illness records is vitally important and can help enhance worker protections. But that is not the goal of this rule. This rule only serves to punish employers. As we’ve said repeatedly, OSHA should instead collaborate with employers to help them understand their legal responsibilities and ensure safety measures are in place to prevent workplace hazards in the future.
Fortunately, Congress has the authority to reject this failed approach to workplace safety and block an abuse of executive power that began under the Obama administration.
I urge my colleagues to support this resolution, and I hope we can all work together to encourage a more proactive approach that prevents injuries and illnesses from happening in the first place. I reserve the balance of my time.