The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to roll back the second of two Obama-era worker safety regulations that aimed to track and reduce workplace injuries and deaths.
Both bills, which call for the elimination of two Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, now await President Trump’s signature. Administration officials said he plans to approve both measures.
The Senate voted Wednesday along party lines, passing the second measure 50 to 48. The Republican-led effort takes aim at a new rule that gave OSHA authority to issue citations and levy fines against companies with 10 or more employees if they failed to record illnesses, injuries and deaths that dated back as far as five years.
Adopted in January, the rule responded to a 2012 D.C. Court of Appeals decision — Volks Constructors v. Secretary of Labor — that limited OSHA’s power to issue citations for record-keeping violations to only those that took place within the last six months.
Before the lawsuit and court ruling, OSHA had for decades issued citations for violations that went back as much as five years, but Volks Constructors successfully challenged their authority in court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the effort to kill the rule Wednesday, calling it a “heavy-handed regulation” that increased “paperwork burdens” for businesses while doing little to improve worker safety.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, argued against the measure, saying OSHA needed the rule. Otherwise, businesses would view such record-keeping as optional, she added.
“This goes against everything President Trump promised workers on the campaign trail,” she said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce led lobbying efforts to roll back the Volks rule. On Tuesday, the chamber sent a letter to congressional leaders titled “Key Vote Alert!” to let them know their vote on the issue would probably be included in their annual “How They Voted” scorecard.
“OSHA’s Volks Rule will improperly subject millions of American businesses to citations for paperwork violations, while doing nothing to improve worker health and safety,” the chamber’s letter said. “It simultaneously represents a usurpation of Congress’ power to write the laws and a direct rejection of the judicial branch’s authority to rein in an agency when it exceeds its authority.
Opponents of the bill also increased their lobbying in the days leading up to the vote. Most notable was a March 19 letter to congressional leaders from the former Bureau of Labor Statistics commissioners — one appointed by President George W. Bush and another by President Barack Obama — urging a “no” vote on the bill.
“Statistics from this survey play an important role in setting national workplace safety strategies, and are widely used by employers for benchmarking their own injury experience,” wrote commissioners Kathleen Utgoff and Erica Groshen.
“In many industries, employers must provide data on their injury rates in competing for contracts,” Utgoff and Groshen added. “If this legislation passes, responsible employers who accurately record workplace injuries will be at a disadvantage competing with employers who do not maintain accurate records.”
Earlier this month, the Senate voted to kill the first of the targeted regulations, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, which required businesses to disclose and correct serious safety violations when bidding for federal contracts valued at $500,000 or more. As with the Volks rule, the Senate vote divided along party lines, with Republicans successfully passing it 49 to 48.
After Trump’s election, the chamber and other business groups created wish lists for regulations they wanted to see eliminated, and these two worker safety rules made it onto many of the lists. Republican lawmakers quickly identified a tool to assist in those efforts — the rarely used Congressional Review Act (CRA), approved in 1996.
The CRA allows Congress to roll back recently enacted regulations by a simple majority vote. Once a rule is killed, it is killed forever. No future administration can pass a substantially similar measure unless Congress is persuaded to pass a law instead — a far more difficult task.