Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) recently reintroduced a bill that would amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The proposed Protecting America’s Workers Act (“PAWA”) (S. 665) would expand coverage to more workers, increase whistleblower protections, significantly enhance the civil and criminal penalties issued against employers for violations, and would provide rights to victims and their family members during the investigation process.
Specifically, the proposed bill would expand OSH Act protections to include state, county, municipal and U.S. government employees. It would also expand protections to flight attendants and other private sector employees. 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 proposed bill would also update the OSH Act’s whistleblower protection provisions by incorporating administrative procedures adopted in similar whistleblower statutes, such as the Surface Transportation Act. 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 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.
Moreover, the proposed bill includes new provisions addressing multiemployer worksites. For example, the proposed bill would amend the general duty clause to expand protections to all workers on the worksite (and not just the employer’s employees), and would require DOL to issue regulations requiring a site-controlling employer to track all recordable injuries and illnesses, including those occurring among contractors and subcontractors. Further, the bill would clarify the employer’s responsibility to provide necessary safety equipment and personal protective equipment to their workers.
The proposed bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (“HELP”) on March 22, 2013. HELP will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole for a vote.