Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

Roby Questions Labor Secretary About OSHA Practices

June 7, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-Ala.) today questioned Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) aggressive tactics to enforce workplace safety rules.

In an Appropriations hearing on the Department of Labor budget, Roby conveyed her frustration that industries in states like Alabama have been singled out for particularly aggressive enforcement because of their “right to work” status. She highlighted her legislation to make permanent OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program.

“I strongly support OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, or VPP, which focuses on partnering with companies to bring them into compliance, rather than targeting them with aggressive punitive penalties,” Roby said. “It just makes sense to help companies become compliant with workplace safety rules on the front end to avoid costly fines and harmful penalties on the back end. Unless, of course, your whole goal is to penalize businesses.”

Secretary Acosta said he strongly agrees and that under the Trump Administration OSHA would prioritize compliance programs like VPP that partner with businesses to keep workers safe.

“The VPP program is particularly successful, and I’ve talked with department staff about it, and they think it’s quite helpful because it really partners with industry and leverages industry staff so that industry staff supports OSHA’s work in bringing places up to compliance and then certifying that they are in compliance,” Secretary Acosta said. “And, in fact, the budget calls for an increase in the VPP program, that is something that this Administration strongly supports and that would be a positive from I think just about everyone’s perspective.”

OSHA created the Voluntary Protection Program in 1982 to partner with industries to certify proper work place safety compliance protocols. VPP is a voluntary program with over 2,200 work sites covering 900,000 employees, all focused on proactive safety practices between employees, employers, and OSHA. A 2007 report showed that VPP saved the federal government nearly $300 million, including $59 million by preventing worker injuries. Participating workplaces have an illness and injury rate well below industry averages.

In March, Roby joined Representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Gene Green (D-TX) to re-introduce bipartisan legislation to codify VPP to make it a permanent component of OSHA.

The full text of Rep. Roby’s exchange with Secretary Acosta is below:

Rep. Roby: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for being here today. As you know, one of the most important functions of your department is to ensure compliance with laws and regulations meant to keep the workplace safe. There are a lot of inherently dangerous jobs out there, and we need sensible rules to keep workers safe.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has broad authority when it comes to enforcing workplace rules. But for the last several years, industries in states like Alabama have felt targeted because of our right to work status. I hope you’ll agree with me that advancing a political agenda has no place in enforcing workplace compliance.

I strongly support OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, or VPP, which focuses on partnering with companies to bring them into compliance, rather than targeting them with aggressive punitive penalties.

I was happy to see in your budget request that OSHA “will continue to recognize VPP sites” and “will continue to prioritize this activity in FY 2017 and FY 2018.”

Additionally, your budget request asks for an increase in resources for Compliance Assistance to increase both the number of outreach and compliance assistance activities and the number of participants in its signature cooperative programs, such as VPP.

I’ve actually worked on legislation for a number of years to make the VPP program permanent. It just makes sense to help companies become compliant with workplace safety rules on the front end to avoid costly fines and harmful penalties on the back end. Unless, of course, your whole goal is to penalize businesses.

So, Mr. Secretary, can you speak to your views on this issue and will your Department prioritize its policy and funding toward partnerships and not penalties?

Sec. Acosta: Congressman thank you for the question, as a general matter I think it’s important that enforcement have both an enforcement component and a compliance assistant component. The VPP program is particularly successful, and I’ve talked with department staff about it, and they think it’s quite helpful because it really partners with industry and leverages industry staff so that industry staff supports OSHA’s work in bringing places up to compliance and then certifying that they are in compliance. And, in fact, the budget calls for an increase in the VPP program, that is something that this administration strongly supports and that would be a positive from I think just about everyone’s perspective.”

Rep. Roby: Thank you for that Mr. Secretary. And please know that I want to be a partner with you to help broaden your Department’s outreach, compliance assistance activities, and support to small businesses and employees in all types of work with compliance and safety.

 

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