Brown Statement on Strengthening Worker Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (H.E.L.P.) attended a hearing today entitled “Introducing Incentives for Safe Workplaces and Meaningful Roles for Victims and Their Families.” In response to the hearing, Brown issued the following statement:
“I would like to thank the Chair and Ranking Member for holding this important hearing.  I also want to thank the witnesses who have joined us today.

Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) more than 35 years ago. This landmark piece of legislation has helped our nation make significant progress toward eliminating health and safety issues at the workplace; however, our economy has changed dramatically since 1970 and so have the risks workers face.  Worker safety laws like the OSH Act have not always kept pace. 

In Ohio, we have some of the highest concentration of workplace industries susceptible to occupational fatalities, from agriculture to mining to manufacturing to transportation to construction. But it is not just heavy industrial work where workers fall victim to injury or death. The AFL-CIO reports that workplace fatalities also occur in the health care sector, in government, in the hospitality industry… even in the financial sector.

Our nation’s unrivaled prosperity is a function of our workforce – they are the backbone of our economy.  It is both in our nation’s interest and one of our government’s most important responsibilities to ensure the safety of U.S. workers.   The previous administration too often dismissed the importance of the U.S. workforce and abdicated its responsibility for ensuring workplace safety.

One tragic example involves food workers’ exposure to diacetyl. Many have heard of the “popcorn lung disease” diagnosed in hundreds of workers, including Keith Campbell in Caledonia, Ohio. The danger of diacetyl exposure is well known and well documented.  Even the companies that make diacetyl recognize the danger. American workers need protection from it. Yet the Bush Administration relied on voluntary compliance from food manufacturers to keep their workers safe from this toxin.

I was pleased to see Labor Secretary Solis withdraw a proposed rule on diacetyl so that the administration can develop a standard that actually protects workers. Too often it takes a national tragedy like a mine disaster to demonstrate that safety measures for miners, and our country’s labor force as a whole, are inadequate. While there has been a recent decline in worker deaths, on average 15 workers die every day because of job injuries.

We have an opportunity to review current practices and strengthen workplace safety laws. Working with leadership from the White House and the Labor Department, Congress can and will strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Act. That means better enforcement.  It means stronger safety measures. It means demonstrating by our actions that we understand just how important the American workforce is to the identity, prosperity, and security of our nation.” 

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