News Releases

Worker Safety: Murray Pushes Forward on Increased Penalties for Worker Deaths at Worker Memorial Day Hearing

Apr 28 2009

As HELP Subcommittee works to craft legislation to increase worker safety and fines for bad actors, Senator Murray Chairs hearing that included testimony from victims' families and policy experts

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, on Workers Memorial Day, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) Chaired a bipartisan hearing of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety that examined better ways to protect American workers on the job. Specifically, the hearing was a first step in crafting legislation that will include increased accountability for safety violations and a greater role in the penalty process for workers who are hurt or injured on the job or the families of those who are fatally injured in the workplace. 

Today’s bipartisan hearing included powerful testimony from Tammy Miser, the founder of a group that supports and raises awareness for victim’s families. Tammy’s brother, Shawn Boone, was killed in an October 2003 explosion at a manufacturing plant in Huntington, Indiana. Other victims families attended the hearing to honor the memory of their family members and push for greater accountability.

Senator Patty Murray delivered the following opening statement at the committee  hearing:

“Today marks the 20th anniversary of Workers Memorial Day, a day many mark by honoring loved ones lost in a workplace tragedy.  And to all of those families and friends we offer our sincerest condolences - and join them in honoring the memory of their loved one. 

“I want to extend a special welcome to all those with us today, who have lost family members to tragedies on the job and who continue to fight for better workplace safety policies. Thank you all for joining us today. 

“We’re here today to talk about how government can be a stronger partner in helping to ensure that every worker who punches in for their next shift returns home safe and healthy at the end of the day. And to do that, we have to think about the role of penalties in preventing workplace injuries. 

“We also have to ensure that when a worker is killed, injured or made sick on the job; those workers and their families are respected and honored throughout the process. 

“In 2007 alone, 5,488 workers were killed on the job, nearly 4 million were injured, and an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 died from occupational diseases.  And those aren’t just numbers – they’re men and women with families who now live every day with the memory of their loss. We must honor those families - and those memories - by working to reduce worker deaths and injuries.

“Unfortunately, over the last few years, OSHA has not lived up to its mission to make workers safer on the job. Many of us have been truly concerned about an enforcement strategy that relied too heavily on voluntary employer compliance programs and watered down fines against bad actors. 

“And we remain concerned about the validity of workplace safety data; and the adequacy of resources given to our state OSHA programs, like the one in my home state of Washington. Our country has made great progress since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 39 years ago.  But we need to do more.

 “A new year, a new Administration, and a new Congress provide us with a fresh opportunity to revisit the law’s effectiveness and the agency responsible for administering it. I look forward to working with Secretary Solis and the next Assistant Secretary for OSHA to ensure that the agency is enforcing the law and doing all it can to help prevent workplace tragedies. 

“Because where the policy is currently inadequate, it’s our job to change it. 

“So, we’re here to talk about how increased penalties in the law can help increase accountability prevent future accidents, and provide parity to other public safety laws. 

“And we’re also here to discuss how to better engage workers and their families in the OSHA process.  While no fine or penalty could ever make up for losing a loved one, families like those in this room deserve a voice in ensuring there is a price to pay.

“Their participation in this process will help hold bad actors accountable and help to spare other families the same pain they have experienced. Tomorrow marks the 5th anniversary of the introduction of Chairman Kennedy’s OSHA reform bill, Protecting America’s Workers Act.   It’s a bill that I’ve been proud to co-sponsor.

“And we carry on that work here today, sending a clear message that one worker’s death, injury, or illness is unacceptable if it’s preventable. We depend on our workers every day to keep our economy going - and they should be able to depend on us to protect them on the job. “