WASHINGTON-Tire manufacturers and dealers are concerned over the Clinton administration's endorsement of a bill to reform the operations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Industry representatives oppose the paperwork and legal burdens of the legislation in general, and its requirement for establishing employer-employee health and safety committees, in particular.
The OSHA reform bill-sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich.-was introduced largely in response to the disastrous September 1991 chicken plant fire in Hamlet, N.C., in which 25 workers were killed.
``In too many workplaces across America, OSHA is a no-show,'' Mr. Kennedy said in introducing the bill in the Senate.
Among other things, the bill:
Requires employers to develop written safety and health programs, as well as establishing joint employer-employee health and safety committees;
Establishes an expedited, 18-month schedule for setting workplace exposure and safety standards;
Requires OSHA to establish safety training programs and provide technical assistance to employers and employees alike; and
Increases the fines and criminal penalties employers may receive for violating OSHA statutes.
Labor Secretary Robert Reich sent letters to Messrs. Kennedy and Ford last December, expressing support for the legislation. The safety program and joint committee requirements are ``new ways to `reinvent' regulation of workplace health and safety,'' Mr. Reich said.
Representatives of U.S. business insist the sweeping requirements of the reform bill, particularly those for joint safety committees, will do more harm than good.
The National Association of Manufacturers said such committees work only when employers are free to choose the best methods to fit their own workplaces.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association has substantial concerns about the joint committee requirement and other mandates in the bill, according to Peter J. Pantuso, RMA vice president of public affairs.
``I'm quite surprised to see the administration endorse the OSHA bill, considering they haven't made it a priority before this,'' Mr. Pantuso said. ``I would be very surprised if this endorsement propels the bill this Congress, since health care will override everything else.''
The National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association is ``concerned to make sure we don't add to the already difficult paperwork burden on our members,'' said Charles D. ``Tony'' Hylton III, NTDRA communications services director.
Industry and government need to find ways for employers and employees to work together toward health and safety goals, according to Mr. Hylton.
``Too often government regulation is concerned with creating an adversarial relationship,'' he said. ``No one seems to be examining the impact of this legislation on small-business men, or listening to their concerns.''
Although industry predicts the OSHA bill will not go far in this Congress, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee has invited Mr. Reich to testify on OSHA reform early this session, and the House Education and Labor Committee has done the same with OSHA Administrator Joseph Dear.