House of Representatives Dings OSHA in New Report

As OSHA moves full steam ahead with its new respirable crystalline silica rule, the U.S. House of Representatives continues to beat the drum that OSHA’s power to level financial penalties should be reduced. In a new report, the House Budget Committee calls for OSHA to make “common sense reforms” that would allow businesses to avoid fines entirely for certain violations if they correct those violations quickly.

According to the new report:

“The goal of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] should be to find ways to make even more progress on the excellent record of U.S. businesses in preventing workplace accidents, not to unnecessarily punish job creators. This budget would provide regulatory relief for businesses by preventing OSHA from imposing fines for non-serious infractions that are corrected within the time allotted in the citation, or by the end of the final appeals process.”

The report provides no further detail on this proposed citation policy, but is possibly an allusion to legislation introduced in 2015 by Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO). Rep. Hartzler’s bill — H.R.1932 - To amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to allow employers a grace period to abate certain occupational health and safety violations before being subject to a penalty under such Act. — proposed that businesses be cited but not fined for violations that are “non-willful, unrepeated, or non-serious” and successfully corrected by the end of a time period set for abatement.

In a press release accompanying her proposed legislation, Rep. Hartzler said: “Some of the OSHA fines that small businesses have been slapped with recently are bizarre. Facing an immediate fine — sometimes up to $7,000 — because a yellow line was not painted 10 feet from the edge of a flat roof, or because the emergency eye wash water was too cold is silly.”

However, it is also possible that the new House of Representatives report is not referencing this bill at all, and is simply reaffirming an opposition to perceived OSHA overreach. The report — over 300 pages long — spends only about a paragraph on OSHA, and speaks to a vast array of issues where the House Budget Committee would like to see policy changes. For example, the same page containing the critique of OSHA also admonishes the government for overspending on programs promoting “Pickleball, free pet neutering, massage therapy, kickboxing, and Zumba.”

Opposition by the Republican-led House of Representatives to OSHA is certainly not new. Last year, the House’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee grilled Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez on the then-proposed silica PEL rule. The committee members expressed concern about the feasibility of enforcing the standard, and also about potential challenges it could mean for industry and job creation.

At the end of the day, while the new report gives voice to objections from the house, it will have little impact in the near future on the actual standards and policies affecting employers. For that reason, professionals in the EHS space should not be distracted by the political discord, and stay focused on “real world” obligations. For the moment, that means preparing for OSHA regulations that are growing tighter, not becoming more lax.