A new restriction on enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act was added to an appropriation bill this week in a late-night maneuver by Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.)
The provision says that when an employer is caught in minor violations of health and safety rules, a fine can't be imposed immediately, as under current law. Instead, the employer must first be given a chance to fix things up, and if he does, no fine.
Dole said the amendment to the $60.6 billion funding bill for the Departments of Labor, and Health, Educations and Welfare would free businesses of petty harassment and encourage voluntary compliance.
But Sen. Harrison A. Williams [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and others opposed the amendment as likely to let violators off the[WORD ILLEGIBLE] and undermine voluntary compliance. Williams said the fact that a business can be fined on first instance, when it is caught in minor violations, is an incentive for employers to put things in shape voluntarily. The amendment, by freeing them of the threat of a fine the first time they are caught, encourages them to neglect fixing up dangerous sport until they are caught.
Williams conceded that in the past the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had focused on "ficayune, nonsensical" violations. But he said it was changing its policy and concentrating on more serious violations. By undermining voluntary compliance, the Dole amendment would make it harder to enforce the law and thus waste scarce manpower, said Williams and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
But Doles had gauged the situation correctly. He knew that small businesses resented some of the occupational health and safety requirements.
It was 9:30 p.m., the bill had been debated two days Senators were tired and anxious to get home. Williams and Kennedy wanted to avoid a filibuster at that hour. Dole persisted, got a vote, and won, 61 to 27. Despite labor union and Labor Department opposition, Sens. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.), Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) and Adlai E. Stevenson (D-Ill.) voted with Dole.
Past anger at OSHA had already resulted in two other restrictions last year. One frees farms with 10 or fewer employees from occupational helth and safety regulations. The other says that when an employer is caught in minor violations for the first time, there must be at least 10 or more such violations at the site before a fine can be imposed. The Dole amendment expands this so that even if there are more than 10, the fine can't be imposed immediately but only if the employer fails to clean up the situation.
The House version of the bill lacks a similar provision. But there is a fairly good chance that Dole's language will survive the House-Senate conference.