By Benjamin Goad - 03/29/13 10:57 PM EDT
It would bolster OSHA whistleblower protections that haven’t been updated since the OSH Act was made law in 1970.
The bill would also increase penalties for employers found guilty of a willful violation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards that leads to a worker death. Currently employers are punishable by misdemeanors in those cases. PAWA would authorize felony charges in those situations and institute a minimum civil penalty of $50,000 in cases when a violation leads to a fatality.
Previous attempts to pass similar legislation have failed, but its backers are emboldened by an investigation conducted by National Public Radio (NPR) and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) into the federal response to scores of deaths involving workers trapped in grain bins in the last 30 years.
The probe found that there have been at least 179 grain entrapment deaths since 1984, and subsequent fines levied by OSHA were cut by more than half in 60 percent of the cases. None have led to jail sentences, the investigation found.
Murray’s bill has attracted ten co-sponsors, all Democrats. Among them are U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety.
“Updating our workplace safety laws and enforcement tools will reduce the number of work related injuries and deaths,” Casey said. “This legislation is good for workers and it’s good for business.”