Forty-two years have passed since the Occupational Safety Health (OSH) Act was signed into law. Now, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has reintroduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) (S. 665) in an effort to strengthen the nation’s occupational safety protections. She calls the legislation “a long-overdue update to the OSH Act, and a good step towards making workplaces safer and healthier across America.”
PAWA works to address workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. Specifically, PAWA would expand OSH Act protections to include state, county, municipal and U.S. government employees; increase whistleblower protections; and improve OSHA reporting, inspection and enforcement. These improvements will help OSHA ensure safe and healthful work environments in industries that have outpaced decades old government regulation, Murray says.
In addition, the current version of PAWA would require a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker’s death caused by a willful violation, and would make felony charges available for an employer’s repeated and willful violations of the OSH Act that results in a worker’s death or serious injury.
The most significant changes would be increasing the statute of limitations period from 30 days to 180 days for filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor and providing a private right of action to all complainants. It would further mandate that the Department of Labor (DOL) investigate all death or serious injury cases and would require that employers inform workers of their rights under the OSH Act. The bill would also give workers and their families a right to meet with DOL investigators.
“Every worker, in every industry, deserves to be confident that while they are working hard and doing their jobs, their employers are doing everything they can to protect them,” notes Murray. “That is why I am so proud to reintroduce the Protecting America’s Workers Act.”
According to Murray, PAWA:
- Covers more workers. More than 8.5 million American workers are not covered by OSHA’s protections.
- Increases penalties for those who break the law. Under current law, an employer may be charged – at most – with a misdemeanor when a willful violation of OSHA leads to a worker’s death. The bill makes felony charges available for an employer’s repeated and willful violations of OSHA that result in a worker’s death or serious injury. It also updates OSHA civil penalties and sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker’s death caused by a willful violation.
- Protects whistleblowers who report unsafe workplace conditions. OSHA whistleblower provisions have not been updated since their adoption in 1970; this bill updates those protections by incorporating successful administrative procedures.
- Enhances the public’s right to know about safety violations. The bill improves public accountability and transparency by mandating DOL to investigate all cases of death or serious incidents of injury, requiring employers to inform workers of their OSHA rights and more.
- Clarifies an employer’s duty to provide a safe worksite. It amends the General Duty Clause to include all workers on the site and clarifies employer responsibility to provide necessary safety equipment. It also directs the DOL to revise regulations for site-controlling employers to keep a site log for all recordable injuries and illnesses among all employees on the work site.
The Protecting America’s Workers Act was sponsored by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in previous Congresses, and has the support of the AFL-CIO. Original Senate co-sponsors of this legislation include Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Frank Lautenberg ( D-N.J.), Jay Rockefeller ( D-W.Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).