U.S. Senator Barack Obama's Statement on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. ญญ- U.S. Senator Barack Obama today released the following statement on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee's hearing, entitled Dangerous Dust: Is OSHA Doing Enough to Protect Workers?

"We must do everything we can to protect America's workers and prevent terrible accidents, like the deadly explosion at Imperial Sugar earlier this year, that occur as a result of combustible dust. It's long past time that OSHA issue a standard to prevent these kinds of accidents, and if the agency will not do so, then Congress must legislate one as soon as possible.

"As I have said before, the Bush Administration's Department of Labor has used its regulatory authority to side with corporations over the public interest - even when its decisions undermine the spirit of the law and puts workers' lives at risk. Unfortunately, the evidence that this Labor Department is failing to fulfill its mission continues to grow. Earlier this year, the HELP Committee's majority staff prepared a report titled, Discounting Death: OSHA's Failure to Punish Safety Violations That Kill Workers, showing that OSHA systematically imposes small fines on employers, even in cases where safety violations led to a worker's death. And two recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports shed light on serious problems at the Wage and Hour Division (WHD).

"Occasional fines in isolated cases, like in the case of Imperial Sugar, will not solve the problem. Fines and penalties must be applied systemically when violations occur to encourage compliance by other employers. OSHA must also issue standards in a timely and effective manner. Taken together, recent independent evaluations of agency performance indicate that the Labor Department is suffering from a dangerous lack of leadership and focus, and workers are paying the price. This hearing is only the latest in a series of events that make it clear that Secretary Chao and her team should recommit their efforts to enforce the protections workers are due under the law."

Michael Ortiz
202 228 5566

Published on: 2008-07-29

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