Protecting America’s Workers Act reintroduced in Senate

The Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAW Act) has been resuscitated by six senators in an attempt to update 1970’s Occupational Safety and Health Act by broadening its coverage.

The PAW Act has had a protracted life in Congress. Since its introduction in April 2004 by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), it has been introduced 15 times with none of the bills making it beyond the committee stage, according to Safety and Health Magazine.

Introduced March 22, the latest iteration’s abstract (S. 2621) on www.congress.gov defines its purpose as “A bill to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to expand coverage under the Act, to increase protections for whistleblowers, to increase penalties for high gravity violations, to adjust penalties for inflation, to provide rights for victims or their family members, and for other purposes.”

The bill was introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

“We need to provide greater protections for workers and their families so no one gets hurt. Everyone should be able to go to work knowing they will come home at the end of the day in the same condition and without experiencing any threat to their health and safety,” said Senator Baldwin in a press release. “It is unacceptable that workers face unsafe working conditions or risk losing their job if they file a complaint. This legislation will improve the rights of employees, foster the safety of their workplaces and hold accountable the bad actors who break the law and do harm to American workers.”

As the law currently stands, an employer faces a risk of being charged with, at most, a misdemeanor “when a willful violation of OSHA leads to a worker’s death,” according to the same press release. The most recent version of the PAW Act aims to authorize felony penalties against “employers who knowingly commit OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury…”

The new version of the bill also seeks to update the current civil penalties in OSHA cases, and sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker’s death caused by a willful violation.

Co-sponsors of the newest Protecting America’s Workers Act include Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).