It appears Wyoming Senate leadership may kill a widely-supported bill to increase penalties for workplace safety violations that result in a fatality, by not bringing it to the floor.
Senate File 72 would give the Wyoming Occupational Health and Safety Administration authority to levy a fine up to $50,000 for companies smaller than 250 employees, and up to $250,000 for companies with 250 employees or more.
It’s up to Senate Majority Floor Leader Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) to bring SF 72 to floor. If that doesn’t happen by end of day Friday, the measure will die. Bebout has said he is uncomfortable with how quickly the bill — sponsored by the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee — has moved through the legislative process.
The measure comes after nearly a decade of testimony from worker advocates and workers’ families warning that OSHA penalties are so low they do not work as a deterrent to risky behavior among employers. Even the most serious OSHA violations that result in injury or death often culminate in fines of $10,000 or less.
“It’s just offensive to people when a family member dies and the penalty is so low,” Rep. Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne), a sponsor of the measure, told WyoFile in October. “The frustration I’ve had … is it’s time to stop just expressing sympathy and time to do something.”
Employers who pay into Wyoming’s workers’ compensation program cannot be sued in civil court for their own negligence. So there’s no recourse for families of workers who have been injured and killed on the job. They look to OSHA to bring about some level of accountability for companies guilty of violating safety regulations.
But what happens when employers who are fined by OSHA don’t even bother paying the fine? Turns out, not much.
Wyoming Department of Workforce Services director Joan Evans recently testified to lawmakers that fines often go unpaid. Outstanding fines to Wyoming OSHA, dating back to 2011, total $117,000 among 27 employers.
WyoFile requested the names of companies with outstanding debt to Wyoming OSHA. The department supplied the following information, based on “closed cases.”