On Wednesday, July 21, the House Education and Labor Committee approved "H.R. 5663, The Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act."  While this bill is primarily focused on overhauling mine safety laws, one section would make drastic changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act.  If enacted, these changes will have a significant impact on employers across the country.

Some of the major changes that would occur if the legislation, as currently written, were enacted:

  • The period for abating serious, willful, or repeated violations would not be stayed by the filing of a notice of contest by an employer;
  • Civil penalties would be increased from $70,000 to $120,000 for repeat and willful violations and from $7,000 to $12,000 for serious and non-serious violations; and
  • Employers could be subject to criminal penalties for violations of OSHA standards resulting in serious bodily harm, and criminal liability generally could extend to officers and directors of companies.

The bill also creates additional procedures for whistleblower protection and would allow a Section 11(c) complaint to be filed up to 180 days after an alleged violation occurs, as opposed to the current 30-day limitation.

Employers are encouraged to keep their eye on this legislation as it is considered by Congress and we will continue to keep you apprised of developments in this area.