The primary reason so many people in this country have been terminally sickened by exposure to asbestos is that employers and manufacturers failed in their obligation to warn workers of the dangers and to take all precautionary measures to keep them safe.
Our mesothelioma lawyers know that despite the fact that asbestos use has waned significantly over the last 40 years, it continues to be a legal material that is still used in the production of numerous compounds and materials.
While we would like to believe that our workforces are safer than they were even just a few decades ago, the reality is that the Occupational Safety and Health Act hasn't been updated since 1970.
Now, some lawmakers are hoping to change that, with the Protecting America's Workers Act, which would serve as an amendment to the earlier legislation and enhance workplace protections, including for employees who continue to come into contact with asbestos.
In general, the bill aims to:
- Extend OSHA coverage to public employees;
- Increase whistleblower protections;
- Improve reporting, inspection and enforcement.
Similar legislation had been proposed before, though has died time after time amid unsurprisingly fierce opposition by big industry groups.
A big part of the positive change that this bill might affect is to give the Occupational Safety & Health Administration some teeth in its watchdog role.
For example, as it now stands, an employer whose willful violation of the law would lead to the death of a worker would face a maximum penalty of a misdemeanor, accompanied by, at most, a six-month prison sentence. Consider that even harassing a wild burro on a public land will get you at least a year behind bars.
This bill, sponsored by Patricia Murray (D-WA), would change that. It would make knowledgeable violations of the law that end in a worker death a felony, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
Also, the act would significantly increase the civil penalties. It's worth noting that these penalties haven't changed on iota since 1990. (A gallon of gas back then cost $1.16 and median household income was less than $30,000.) Yet penalties for worker safety violations have not increased at all. In fact, OSHA is one of the few federal agencies that is exempt from inflation.
So right now, serious violations - or those that are defined as being most likely to result in serious physical harm or death - are punishable by a maximum fine of $7,000. Willful repeat violations are punishable by a maximum $70,000.
The new law would up those amounts to $12,000 and $120,000, respectively, bringing them exactly in line with inflation. It would also lift OSHA's exemption to inflation adjustments.
The law would also mandate that companies would have to protect ALL workers who are working on their job sites, not just those whom they employ directly. They would also be required to account for any illnesses and injuries acquired by those workers and maintain a log.
The way it works right now, contractors, who often carry out some of the most dangerous work, aren't included in most company's injury logs, even when the injury occurred at the company's work site.
This law is about protecting our future. For workers who have already suffered exposure to asbestos, we are here to help.