Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has sponsored legislation restoring worker protections rolled back by the U.S. Department of Labor. Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

Employers would be subject to stiffer penalties for endangering workers and face fines for failing to accurately record injuries and illnesses under separate bills pending in Congress.

Under the first bill, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., companies repeatedly cited for the most serious violations that result in workers’ deaths could face criminal penalties, instead of just misdemeanors. The legislation would also require federal workplace safety regulators to investigate all injuries and deaths. Federal safety protections would be extended to federal, state and municipal workers.

The second bill, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would revive a Barack Obama-era rule that President Donald Trump overturned in April requiring employers to promptly record all injuries, illnesses and deaths.

Under federal law, workplace safety regulators have up to six months after a violation occurs to issue a citation. The legislation would enable the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to cite companies within six months of discovering an injury record-keeping violation, instead of the initial date the employer fails to record the injury.

Both pieces of legislation are intended to blunt sweeping policy decisions by the Republican-led Congress and Trump administration that have rolled back Obama-era protections for American workers.

“President Trump and Republicans are allowing corporations and special interests to take advantage of workers and put their bottom line ahead of workers’ safety,” said Murray, the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a written statement. “Tracking workplace injuries and deaths is critical to crack down on the most dangerous industries and repeat offenders.”

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders had assailed the rules, saying OSHA had overreached. Groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Association of General Contractors and the National Home Builders Association supported the push to overturn the record-keeping rule earlier this year, and urged these lawmakers to “put a stop to OSHA’s abuse of its authority.”

Despite the Republican majority in Congress, Franken says it is time to revamp outdated workplace safety protections.

“Too many Americans are still exposed to unnecessary hazards on the job and we continue to see too many preventable workplace deaths and injuries,” Franken said in a statement about his bill. “It’s our job as legislators to upgrade our laws when they no longer work for our constituents, and this bill would do that by increasing protections for workers.”

It is not known whether Republicans will take up the bills, introduced in the Senate in May. Similar bills are pending in the House.

Proponents of the bills acknowledged that it will be difficult to push them through Congress.

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is a reporter for Reveal, covering labor and corporate accountability.

An Emmy Award winner, Gollan has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to lax manufacturing practices that contributed to deadly tire blowouts.

Gollan uncovered rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry. The series, Caregivers and Takers, detailed how operators enriched themselves while paying workers about $2 an hour to work around the clock. The stories prompted a congressional hearing, plans for prosecutions and new state legislation. 

Gollan exposed how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured. In response to her reporting, Congress passed a new federal law, the Government Accountability Office produced a report and the Pentagon began scrutinizing the safety records of more defense contractors.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian U.S., Politico Magazine and PBS NewsHour.

Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing Awards. She has been a finalist for an ONA Online Journalism Award, an IRE Award and two Gerald Loeb Awards. Gollan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.