The Wyoming State Legislature’s Joint Interim Labor and Health Committee is considering legislation that would increase OSHA fines and impose a minimum $50,000 fine on responsible employers for workplace fatalities.

Two bills were introduced at the Committee’s meeting last week in Evanston. The Committee decided that neither bill was “quite ready for prime-time” and will be working to draft a new bill before the December Committee meeting.

The first bill, introduced by Labor Committee Chairman, Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper) would not have increased OSHA fines across the Board, instead established a new minimum fatality fine of $50,000 for responsible employer(s), established a process for hearings to designate responsible parties, and established a process for penalizing OSHA officials who failed to properly implement citations and penalties.

The second bill, introduced by Representative Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne) would have raised most OSHA fines, with serious violations going from $7,000 to $12,000, raise fines for employers that “willfully and knowingly” allowed safety violations to occur from the current range of $5,000 – $70,000 to $8,000 – $120,000. This bill would have also established a maximum $50,000 fine for fatalities that resulted from safety violations ($10,000 for companies with 25 or fewer employees). The proposed “fatality” fines would be increased if it is found that an employer or employers “willfully and knowingly” allowed the safety violations to occur, to a maximum of $250,000 ($25,000 for employers with less than 25 employees.

The Department of Workforce Services stated that OSHA investigates only about 50% of Wyoming workplace fatalities, as roughly 50% are the result of highway/roadway accidents and investigated by the highway patrol or local law enforcement. Out of that, OSHA has issued very few fines for fatalities.

Some committee members expressed concern over the bills, that they do not account for employees responsibilities in incidents, that there is no process for appeals, and that the bills allow very little room to consider extenuating circumstances.

WCC President, Josh Carnahan testified that the proposed bills would be in violation of state statute that does not allow the state to impose fines and regulations greater than federal standards, and while the Legislature certainly has the prerogative to change that statute as well, it may have unintended circumstances. Carnahan further testified that the state OSHA commission already holds the authority to punish OSHA employees for not properly issuing citations.

Carnahan went on to say that the focus needs to be on proactive safety solutions, stopping injuries and fatalities before they occur, instead of utilizing more and more resources to cast blame and collect fines.

As indicated above, the Committee chose to go back to the drawing board on these bills, and bring new proposed legislation to the Committees next meeting in December.

We need to know your thoughts on these important issues, please feel free to email WCC President, Josh Carnahan at joshc@webuildwyoming or call him at (307) 577-6460.