An Interview with Senator Michael Enzi (6/97)

A new bill introduced in the Senate would modernize OSHA and, thus, improve workplace safety and health throughout the nation. Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) and nine Republican co-sponsors introduced this bill, the Safety and Health Advancement Act of 1997 (S.765), in the Senate on May 20. Enzi said the bill would provide incentives for small business to comply with job safety and health rules.

According to a report issued by Bureau of National Affairs, S.765 would encourage employers to implement voluntary employee safety and health participation programs in the workplace. In fact, the bill proposes to award a $250 tax credit to small businesses that initiate such programs. The bill would also encourage small businesses to participate in OSHA's voluntary protection program (VPP) with outreach and assistance initiatives.

Other key provisions of the legislation:

  • S.765 would establish a "third-party independent audit and evaluation program" separate from OSHA. It would establish certified "auditors" who would provide consultation services to employers and perform workplace inspections.

  • S.765 would establish an advisory committee to the Secretary of Labor. The committee would make recommendations on qualifications for safety and health auditors.

  • S.765 includes a provision for "employee responsibility," under which workers who violate safety laws may be fined if the employer is in compliance with the law. These penalties would range from $50 to $500.

  • S.765 would require independent scientific peer review before any final OSHA rule could be issued. National Academy of Science would review the final rule and make recommendations to the Secretary of Labor.

On the morning of June 18, Senator Enzi spoke to more than 3,000 safety and health professionals at ASSE's Professional Development Conference in New Orleans. During a keynote presentation, he discussed his proposed legislation in detail. Senator Enzi then conducted a press conference where he addressed various issues related to the legislation.

Following the press conference, Senator Enzi was interviewed by Neal Lorenzi, editor of Professional Safety, and Donielle Barney, ASSE's manager of public relations. Key segments of that interview are presented here.

ASSE: In the past, many legislators have commented that OSHA is in need of legislative reform. What do you believe are the primary concerns related to OSHA, and how do you think legislation can remedy these concerns?

Senator Enzi: S.765 includes several sections of primary concern. It promotes teamwork in the workplace, in which employees are able to talk to each other about different types of safety problems and possible solutions.

It establishes a third-party certification process so that every business can participate in making the worksite a safer place.

It includes provisions for scientific review of new OSHA regulations. This would promote more acceptance of new regulations, as well as ensure business of their scientific basis. Employees would have "individual responsibility" for wearing hard hats and other types of personal protective equipment.

So, each of the sections will definitely improve workplace safety and health.

ASSE: The Society believes that the President Clinton Reinvention Criteria is a reasonable starting point for significant OSHA reinvention. What do you see as the primary advantages and disadvantages of the Clinton plan?

Senator Enzi: We are very pleased that reinvention encourages third-party audits. That's a key provision of our proposed bill; it recognizes the fact that 2,400 OSHA inspectors cannot possibly get around to 6.2 million businesses. We want to change the focus from one of "fear of weighted penalties" to one of "getting help in compliance" so we have safe workplaces so employer money can be spent on improving safety rather than on paying fines.

Also, reinvention quantifies the VPP. We want to recognize those businesses that have great safety records; want to encourage businesses to become a part of this voluntary program.

I see no disadvantages to the Clinton Reinvention Plan.

ASSE: How are you working with your House counterparts, such as Representatives Goodling and Ballenger?

Senator Enzi: They appear to favor reform oversight rather than your enhancement proposals.

We're just beginning the process of finding people to take a similar process through the House. So we're talking to a lot of people about the need for OSHA modernization rather than reform. I think the representatives in the House recognize the difficulty of getting the bill through the Senate because of the fillibuster and hold provisions. We need to overcome those restraints. I think, as formulated, this bill can do that (overcome restraints).

ASSE: Any thoughts on the Hutchison, Hefley and Kassebaum/Gregg bills?

Senator Enzi: One provision I'm concerned about (no matter what bill it shows up in) is the provision that excludes worksites with less than 10 people from being inspected. In effect, this provision says that these small businesses aren't important not a message that we want to send. However, we need to recognize that these small businesses have special compliance needs. (How does a two-person business form a safety committee?) But we don't want to write off this small business segment.

ASSE: What is your outlook as to the chances of this legislation being successfully enacted? Will you and Senator Kennedy be able to come together on this bill?

Senator Enzi: My hope is the Democrats will understand the bill understand that it calls for modernization, not reform and that they will help on the bill. I expect Senator Kennedy to work with us. I'm impressed with his work on the Senate Labor Committee and his 40 years' experience in workplace safety issues. His experience will be a great help to us.

ASSE: Some of our members believe that companies with solid safety and health records should be able to use their own staff safety and health professionals to do self-certification. Do you think this is a realistic proposal, and would such an initiative have a chance of future passage?

Senator Enzi: Yes, that is something we will consider in a later bill. Of course, we now have a Voluntary Protection Plan that recognizes companies with great safety records (that allows in-house control), while third-party audits start with external control.

ASSE: How will this bill impact safety professionals?

Senator Enzi: I think it will bring a lot of attention to the safety professional's role in all businesses. Anytime that we talk about safety, we improve safety. Employees show a great response to people (management) being concerned about safety. This (bill) is an opportunity to say, "There are things we need to get done. We're concerned about your safety." It goes back to having safety professionals help give guidance to make sure the workplace is safer. Overall, we're trying to make the process more inclusive instead of divisive.

ASSE: How would individuals meeting the certification criteria listed in the legislation be included in the program?

Senator Enzi: Some safety associations already have a primary certification process and (the bill) accepts that certification process. For associations that don't, the bill would set up an advisory committee to establish a certification process. I anticipate that most certification will be handled by the existing associations though. Overall, S.765 places great emphasis on certification.

ASSE: Do you see OSHA legislation as being an ongoing issue in Congress?

Senator Enzi: I hope so. I want to get this bill through the process, have people participate, see its benefits, then sign on and be able to address even more difficult issues. Once we have a history (on the bill's progress), those issues will be easier to address. We have to build a reputation first for not trying to destroy the current system; then more people will recognize S.765 and be willing to help out.

ASSE: How do you see the special advisory committee in your bill working in conjunction with both the public and private sectors?

Senator Enzi: We see the advisory committee being involved in issues related to certification and the referral of rules/regulations for scientific analysis. We don't try to separate the public from private sector. One of ASSE's primary concerns is the use of National Academy of Science (NAS) to conduct independent scientific peer review. Our belief is that NIOSH should be conducting such activities for reasons of efficiency and effectiveness.

ASSE: Why do you believe NAS is a more appropriate entity to perform safety and health peer review?

Senator Enzi: Two reasons.

  1. We think NIOSH is busy (and should be busy) doing research and proposing rules. A group that proposes rules should not have to oversee and evaluate rules. So we need a little separation there.

  2. This change will instill confidence from both public and private sector that scientific evaluation is being performed. This is one of those compromise situations that we've worked through in creating the bill.

ASSE: So, NAS is better suited for scientific review?

Senator Enzi: Yes, NAS is already set up to do this kind of work; it already has the public review system in place. NAS will be a nice complement. NIOSH won't have to defend the work that it has both proposed and tested. In fact, NIOSH has spoken to us about this issue. I think NIOSH would like to be out of the way of criticism and be involved mainly in research and proposing rules.

ASSE: ASSE strongly supports that OSHA personnel need to obtain private-sector certification or licensing. What are your views on this issue, and how do you think this will benefit the agency from a long-range perspective?

Senator Enzi: I think OSHA personnel need to obtain continuing education and/or certification and licensing. I'm an accountant myself (a certified professional), so I recognize the value of certification. From a long-range perspective, this will give the agency more acceptance of the value of their work. And, hopefully, it will give the agency a better (workplace) perspective.

ASSE: Do you have any additional thoughts (you would like to share) as far as a new OSHA administrator and ergonomics?

Senator Enzi: I hope the new director can work with all sectors that I've been working with. Our goal is to improve safety. As for ergonomics, that issue is going through a process right now. I think the process that I devised (in our proposed bill) would have taken care of the problem much more quickly moved the ergonomics proposal through the process faster. First of all, the ergonomics proposal would get a fresh look (scientific review) from NAS.

ASSE: Will you sponsor additional legislation in the future, and what are some of the safety and health goals you would like to attain from both short- and long-range perspectives?

Senator Enzi: We will develop a follow-up package of legislation once this bill (process) is completed. There are other provisions that people are interested in issues such as reducing the amount of paperwork required to achieve compliance and disproportionate amounts of fines. We've been keeping a list of concerns, and are ready to act on even more contentious issues.

ASSE: How can the Society and individual safety professionals help move safety and health forward during public-sector policy making?

Senator Enzi: Washington really responds to contact from our constituents, particularly constituents who know what they are talking about. Of course, ASSE has the people who've been involved in safety. (ASSE members are recognized experts in the field.) So any comments from ASSE members regarding this bill or other safety legislation is important. Positive comments (directed at Washington) would help get S.765 approved.

ASSE: What's the timeline for the bill's passage?

Senator Enzi: Just on the Senate side, we have a hearing scheduled for July 10, then it has to be marked up (hopefully the following week). We plan to simultaneously get action started on the House side. The House can move faster than the Senate. Overall, we expect to get something done (bill passage) this year.

A presentation also was made by Enzi's legislative assistant, Chris Spear, on June 18. All total, almost 3,500 safety and health professionals were able to hear, firsthand, the senator's commitment to advancing occupational safety and health in the U.S.

ASSE members attending the conference were very positive about the presentation. In fact, several members commended the senator on his common-sense approach to workplace safety and health. Several Wyoming constituents attributed the senator's success to his significant state legislative experience, ability to recruit and maintain highly professional staff members, and his extensive business background.

"We like the bill and believe its overall effect will be the enhancement of workplace safety and health in the United States," said 1996/97 ASSE President Nancy J. McWilliams, CSP, ARM. "There's a lot more to like in Senator Enzi's bill than previous attempts by Congress to improve safety and health in the workplace. We look forward to the deliberations addressing some of the finer points of S.765."

From the Senator's Biographical Sketch . . .

Michael B. Enzi was sworn in as Wyoming's 20th U.S. senator on Jan. 7, 1997. As the Senate's only accountant, he has been a leader in the effort to create a tax system that is simple and fair to the American people.

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