Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has reintroduced a bill that would amend the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act by expanding its coverage, increasing whistleblower protections, significantly enhancing employer civil and criminal penalties for violations, and providing rights to victims and their family members during the investigation process. The Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) (S. 665) has been introduced both as standalone legislation and incorporated into larger mine safety bills over the years. This month, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) reintroduced the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act (H.R. 1373) without the PAWA provisions, most likely to improve its chance of advancement. Because PAWA would make significant changes to the OSH Act, its likelihood of passage this term remains low.

The most recent version of PAWA includes provisions that would amend the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause to include all workers on the work site. The new PAWA would also call for updated safety regulations that would require site-controlling employers to maintain a site log for all recordable injuries and illnesses among all employees on the job site. In addition to these new requirements, the bill contains provisions set forth in earlier versions of PAWA. Notably, the measure would do the following:

  • Extend OSHA protections to an additional 8.5 million workers not currently covered by the OSH Act. These workers include flight attendants and federal, state, and local public employees.
  • Impose felony charges on employers that commit repeated and willful violations of the OSH Act that result in employee deaths or serious injuries. Civil penalties would also be increased. For example, the bill would set a floor of $50,000 in civil fines for a worker death stemming from a willful violation.
  • Increase whistleblower protections for workers by updating the administrative procedures to process whistleblower claims.
  • Require the DOL to investigate all workplace incidents involving death or serious injury.
  • Impose new notice requirements for employers regarding workplace safety.

In a press release, Sen. Murray said that “Every worker, in every industry, deserves to be confident that while they are working hard and doing their jobs, their employers are doing everything they can to protect them,” adding: “This legislation is a long-overdue update to the OSH Act, and a good step towards making workplaces safer and healthier across America.” More information on the bill can be found here.