Lawmakers Take Key Step in Protecting Workers From Hazards

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Lawmakers Take Key Step in Protecting Workers From Hazards

Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

WASHINGTON - Today, the House Committee on Education and Labor took an important
step in protecting America’s workers from occupational hazards. The
committee’s passage of the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act
(H.R. 5663) clears the way for a vote on the floor of the House of
Representatives. We strongly urge the House and Senate to enact this
critical workplace safety legislation before Congress adjourns.

Passage of H.R. 5663 would strengthen the enforcement powers of the
watchdog agencies charged with ensuring workplace safety. These
agencies, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), currently lack the
necessary tools to protect employees and deter bad workplace behavior.
The legislation addresses two key areas in particular:

Protecting employees. The bill provides whistleblower protections for
employees who alert inspectors or their superiors of unsafe working
conditions or who refuse to work in unsafe conditions. The bill also
gives employees and victims of workplace injuries or illnesses input
during investigations of workplace incidents.

Penalizing employers who endanger employees. The current penalties
for mine operators and employers who commit safety violations are too
low to act as an effective deterrent against bad behavior. Under current
law, OSHA’s fines are not even adjusted for inflation. This bill would
increase civil and criminal penalties for violations, reclassifying the
most egregious violations as felonies. MSHA would also be given
authority to shut down mines that routinely violate safety standards.

These are only a few of the workplace safety improvements that H.R.
5663 would make. Public Citizen commends U.S. Rep. George Miller
(D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor and a
coauthor of the bill, for advancing this bill to protect America’s
workers.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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