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Republicans Want to Silence Safety Whistle-Blowers

Want more proof what side most Republican lawmakers stand on when it comes to workplace safety? When it comes to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) budget, they seem to be saying that it’s more important to let employers voluntarily police themselves and enforce workplace safety standards than it is to give workers protection when they blow the whistle on unsafe practices.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) tells Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report (DLR, subscription required) that House Republicans will reject President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 OSHA. He says they are particularly opposed to the added $4.9 million for worker whistle-blower protection and the $3.2 million cut in the voluntary employer compliance program that was the hallmark of the Bush administration. He tells the DLR:  

You see efforts on [Democrats'] part to increase whistle-blower opportunities, increase penalties, increase the number of inspectors, increase the number of inspections and pull back from voluntary participation programs. We just have a fundamentally different view of what we think that relationship ought to be between the government and the workforce.

The last time we checked, more inspectors, more inspections, tougher penalties and worker protections were the hallmarks of any effective workplace safety program. There’s plenty of evidence that when given the opportunity, some employers don’t hesitate to cut corners or just downright ignore safety and health laws.

As the AFL-CIO Executive Council pointed out yesterday:

Some employers, such as Massey Energy and BP, cut corners and flagrantly violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives.

With millions of workplaces under their jurisdiction, the little more than 900 federal OSHA safety inspectors could inspect each workplace once in every 129 years, according to the 2011 AFL-CIO report Death on the Job.

And the penalty to an employer for a workplace fatality was a meager $5,600. Criminal penalties are rare and only 84 workplace safety criminal cases have been prosecuted since 1970.

But apparently for Kline and other Republicans, OSHA has far too many inspectors and levies penalties that are too harsh.  

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