WASHINGTON-A House subcommittee chairman has introduced a Republican reform bill for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that goes further than President Clinton's OSHA reform plans. The bill introduced June 14 by Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., is designed to make OSHA less an enforcement agency and more a health and safety adviser to U.S. employers.
In the Ballenger bill, half of OSHA's funding (after a three-year phase-in) would be earmarked for consultation, training, education and compliance assistance programs. OSHA also would be required to make cost-benefit and risk assessment studies an integral part of all rulemaking.
The Ballenger bill also takes most of the teeth out of OSHA penalties. It gives employers the opportunity to correct violations before the issuance of a citation, unless the violation caused a death or serious injury. ``Arbitrary and subjective'' penalties are forbidden, as are penalties given under the OSHA ``General Duty Clause,'' which allows agency inspectors to make citations in the absence of specific regulations.
Penalties for posting and paperwork violations also are eliminated, except when they demonstrably endanger workers or were committed deliberately to deceive inspectors.
The Ballenger bill makes voluntary compliance programs a central part of OSHA's mission. It creates a new Voluntary Compliance Program that allows certified individuals to conduct advisory health and safety reviews for employers. Employers who have such reviews are excused from random OSHA inspections for one year.
Several agencies would be eliminated under the Ballenger plan, including the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, whose training and certification programs would be transferred to OSHA.
``OSHA has become known for issuing silly regulations and is preoccupied with collecting fines from unsuspecting employers,'' Mr. Ballenger said. ``It's time to add some common sense to OSHA's regulations and focus on promoting safety in the workplace.''
Business and labor reactions to the Ballenger bill were even more stratified than with the Clinton plan announced in May.
Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the Ballenger bill ``strikes the right balance between education and enforcement, and will enhance worker protection much more than the current wayward system.''
But Peg Seminario of the AFL-CIO said the legislation will ``take away government authority overseeing worker safety and health. . . at the expense of workers' lives.''
Witnesses gave emotionally charged testimony June 20 before Mr. Ballenger's subcommittee, the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Thomas R. Donahue, accompanied by Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., called the bill ``The Death and Injury Act of 1995,'' and charged it would give employers carte blanche to ignore worker safety.
But James C. Andrews Jr., director of safety and loss prevention for Dow Chemical Co. Texas Operations, spoke vigorously in the bill's defense, particularly for its provisions encouraging voluntary compliance programs.
OSHA launched its Voluntary Protection Programs in 1982, and the process shows results, Mr. Andrews said. VPP participants experience lost workday incidence rates 60 to 80 percent below the average.'' Better employee morale, reduced absenteeism and a better working relationship between business and OSHA are additional benefits, he added.
Since the VPP is not a part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, many states have chosen not to allow it, Mr. Andrews said. He urged the subcommittee to amend the act to include the VPP, while maintaining ``effective, strong compliance activities to achieve its mission of ensuring worker safety and health.''