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April 21, 2010

OSHA Head Seeks Higher Penalties, Improved Whistleblower Protection

Employers who ignore OSHA's rules and risk workers' lives should pay higher penalties, OSHA Assistant Secretary Michaels told Congress in March. Monetary penalties for violations of the OSH Act have been increased only once in 40 years.

"Safe jobs exist only when employers have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA's requirements. Those incentives are affected, in turn, by both the magnitude and the likelihood of penalties. Swift, certain and meaningful penalties provide an important incentive to 'do the right thing. However, OSHA's current penalties are not large enough to provide adequate incentives," said Michaels.

Michaels illustrated the disparity between OSHA penalties and those of other agencies: In 2001, a tank of sulphuric acid exploded at a refinery, killing a worker and literally dissolving his body. OSHA's penalty was $175,000. In the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing an EPA Clean Water Act violation amounting to $10 million.

Whistleblower recommendations include increasing the existing 30-day deadline for filing an 11(c) complaint to 180 days, and reinforcing current employee protections against retaliation.

Read his full testimony here or browse OSHA safety signs here.

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