The Build Back Better Act, announced today by the Biden Administration, makes significant improvements in workplace safety protections for American workers. The House bill, H.R. 5376, released by the Rules committee today, includes:
- $707 million to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for carrying out enforcement, standards development, whistleblower investigations, compliance assistance, funding for State plans, and related activities within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The money is to be spent over the next 5 fiscal years. OSHA’s current annual budget is only $591.8 million, so this represents a 20% annual increase over the next 5 years.
- 133 million to the Mine Safety and 21 Health Administration over the next five years for carrying out enforcement, standard setting, technical assistance, and related activities. The current MSHA budget is $379.8 million.
The bill also includes significant increases in OSHA’s maximum penalties:
- Penalties for serious violations (and failure to abate violations) would increase from $13,653 to $70,000
- Penalties for willful violations (and repeat violations) would increase from $136,530 to $700,000.
Former OSHA head David Michaels tweeted that “Many large employers treat current OSHA fines as cheaper than the cost of a safety consultant. This dramatic increase will save lives by encouraging firms to eliminate hazards before workers are hurt.”
There is still a ways to go before this legislation becomes law, but after 51 years, these changes would finally give OSHA the opportunity to issue high enough penalties to actually have an impact on large businesses that violate the law and injure or kill workers.
For those businesses that are freaking out, note that these are maximum penalties and actual penalties for small and medium size businesses will be significantly lower. And, of course, they can completely avoid penalties by ensuring a safe workplace.