WASHINGTON-Business interests are pleased, labor unions angry over the Senate bill to reform the operations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Sponsored by Sens. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the Senate bill is less sweeping than a similar House bill. Rubber interests, represented by the Rubber Manufacturers Association, have not yet decided which bill to support.
Both bills make voluntary compliance the keystone of OSHA's activities, and stress incentives over penalties to get employers to obey workplace safety laws. Unlike the House bill, however, the Senate bill would leave intact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and would not fold the Mine Safety and Health Administration into OSHA.
The Senate bill also would:
Make official the ``Voluntary Protection Program,'' recognizing firms which have made ``an extraordinary commitment to health and safety;''
Exempt employers from regular OSHA inspections if they either form comprehensive health and safety programs or hire certified professionals for inspections;
Allow OSHA inspectors to issue warnings instead of citations for minor violations; and
Waive all penalties for employers with up to 250 employees who are shown not to have any significant health or safety violations.
The Senate bill ``refocuses OSHA on its primary mission of improving workplace health and safety,'' said Ms. Kassebaum, chairwoman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, at a Nov. 29 hearing.
The Labor Policy Association, a coalition of more than 225 U.S. corporations, supports the Senate bill, according to an LPA spokesman.
But Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, attacked the bill as undermining worker safety, saying ``it seeks to make OSHA an adviser to employers, rather than an enforcer of the law and a protector of workers.''
OSHA Administrator Joseph A. Dear, who leads the Clinton administration's efforts to reform agency operations, said the Senate bill goes too far in excusing employers from obeying workplace regulations. OSHA's reinvention initatives foster cooperative partnerships with employers, he said, but are predicated on a credible enforcement program.
No Congressional votes have been scheduled on OSHA reform.