New Worker Safety Bill Introduced in House, Protects Whisleblowers, Targets Bad Actors

by Celeste Monforton

July 02, 2010

Cross-posted from The Pump Handle.

Cong. George Miller (D-CA) is a man of tough talk and swift action. Today, along with 15 other House members, he introduced H.R. 5663 a bill to upgrade provisions of our nation's key federal workplace health and safety laws. Every year, tens of thousands of workers are killed or made ill because of on-the-job hazards, and this year the toll of death made headline news. The Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Upper Big Branch mine explosion alone cut short the lives of 40 workers, with their coworkers' and families' lives changed forever.

H.R. 5663 will modernize whistleblower protections for workers who express concerns about safety and health, raise the maximum civil penalty amount that can be proposed by OSHA for serious, willful and repeat violations, and allow for criminal sanctions against employers who knowingly violate safety regulations that contributed to the death of a worker. Deb Koehler-Fergen, whose son Travis Koehler, 26, was killed while working for Boyd Gaming at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas enthusiastically endorsed the bill.

"Employers who put workers lives at risk should be held accountable for their actions, including much stiffer penalties and the possibility of jail time."

The bill includes new authority for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), such as subpeona power during accident investigations, and more stringent requirements for mine operators, such as certifications for management officials, a duty to inform miners on every shift of violations or other unsafe conditions, no loss of pay for miners who are withdrawn from work because of serious hazards, and reimbursement to the U.S. Treasury for the cost of follow-up inspections for mines with a pattern of serious violations.

It's the kind of bill that all Members of Congress should be able to endorse: employers who respect their workers' lives and embrace sound safety and health practices will not be touched by these legislative changes.

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Also from Celeste Monforton

Celeste Monforton joined the Milken Institute School of Public Health in 2006. She is a regular contributor to the "Pump Handle," a blog known as "a water cooler for the public health crowd." She continues her work in occupational health and maintains her ties to The George Washington University by serving as a professorial lecturer.

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