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Safety Agency Puts Punishing U.S. Employers First, Lawmaker Says

Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is punishing employers at the expense of reducing workplace injuries, Representative Tim Walberg, a Michigan Republican, said today at a congressional hearing.

“It has become an administration more focused on punishment than prevention,” said Walberg, chairman of the a member of the committee who was elected last year. “I am concerned with recent actions that suggest the administration has shifted the balance toward punishment and taken its sights off commonsense rules that promote prevention.”

The Republican-led House Education and the Workforce Committee is examining how regulations proposed by the agency are contributing to job creation and workplace safety. Groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest lobbying organization for businesses, said OSHA has an activist agenda that raises costs for employers and may hurt the economy.

Stuart Sessions, president of Environomics Inc. in Bethesda, Maryland, whose clients including the American Portland Cement Alliance and American Petroleum Institute, criticized a proposal that would require employers to shield workers from loud noises. The measure was withdrawn Jan. 19 amid complaints and the agency is reviewing alternatives.

The noise requirements would have cost, on average, $3,000 to $10,000 per employee a year for manufacturers with similar expenses for transportation companies, he said.

“This is a very large cost for a policy,” said Sessions, who spoke on behalf of the Coalition for Workplace Safety.

Republicans Criticized

Representative Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, criticized Republicans for proposing to eliminate funding for the OSHA’s statistics and information division and the agency website.

“If OSHA comes under assault from the new majority, the fact is, the agency may not be able to carry out its core missions,” Woolsey said. “I strongly believe it is the lack of regulations that has killed workers.”

Tammy Miser of Lexington, Kentucky, cried as she told lawmakers about the death of her brother, Shawn Boone, in a 2003 explosion at auto-wheel factory in Huntington, Indiana.

“The buzz is that OSHA regulations are bad for business and kill jobs,” said Miser, executive director of the United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities, which represents families who lost relatives in workplace accidents. “This is nonsense.”

Representative George Miller, a California Democrat, said the agency has been effective in saving workers’ lives.

“When you talk only about the cost of regulations, somewhere in the testimony there has to be information about the benefits,” Miller said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at sarmour@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net.

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