Workplace safety is a priority

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

No matter the size of the business, the number of workers it employs, or the industry it supports, workplace safety is the responsibility and should be a chief priority of all businesses. Every worker deserves a safe and healthy workplace.

As chairman of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee, I recently convened a hearing to examine the role of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in supporting workplace safety. The hearing looked at how OSHA is ensuring safe workplaces and promoting smart, responsible regulatory policies for both employees and employers.

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OSHA plays a key role in helping workers and employers make workplaces safe through its health and safety standards, guidelines, education, assistance, and outreach. The agency’s policies cover approximately 130 million workers at more than 8 million worksites. Its reach encompasses private sector employers and workers in all 50 states.

While OSHA has standards that provide employees with workplace protections across many industries, employers are continuously struggling to comply with the ever-changing standards and new regulations released by OSHA every year. I often hear stories from local businesses in Southwest Alabama who are negatively impacted by confusing, unnecessary, and ever-changing policies put forward by OSHA.

I have heard from countless employers and business owners who have told me about the challenges they face in complying with OSHA’s policies. While these employers agree that OSHA strives to create what it views as the safest working environments for employees, it is often hard for businesses of all sizes to stay in compliance with OSHA standards. Many businesses also agree that OSHA’s intentions are well meaning, but are unworkable in the real world.

Furthermore, continuous change comes at a cost to many businesses, as they must adjust operations to meet the new standards. These compliance costs are especially difficult for small businesses that have limited resources to meet new, burdensome OSHA standards. The added compliance costs are often passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

That said, there are programs at OSHA designed to help businesses of all sizes in a proactive way. Just last week, I visited the Cintas location in Mobile to celebrate their designation as an OSHA Voluntary Protection Program Star site. I continue to applaud the local employees for their commitment to workplace safety, and I think it is critical that OSHA pursue proactive, positive ways to ensure a safe workplace instead of only using punitive practices.

During the hearing, a representative from the National Association of Home Builders had this to say about how OSHA’s policies are making things harder for the construction industry:

“In recent years, OSHA has unleashed a ‘regulatory tsunami’ on the construction industry—a significant growth in the number and scope of regulations, along with the associated costs of these regulations—and the process by which many of OSHA’s compliance inspections were undertaken has raised concerns from our members about OSHA’s heavy-handed enforcement practices and procedures.”

Another big issue with OSHA currently is that the Senate has failed to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the agency, Scott Mungo. Mungo has worked on safety programs and policies at FedEx for many years, and he understands the real-world impact of federal policies. Like many other nominees, the Senate needs to confirm him so OSHA has a permanent leader in place.

It is my hope that with new leadership, a focus on the real-world impact of their agency’s policies, and proactive outreach, we can see greater trust between OSHA and business and truly promote workplace safety in a way that makes things better for American workers.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.