Mike Enzi's OSHA reform bill is not like past OSHA bills. Then again, Mike Enzi is not like other politicians. For starters, the 53-year-old Eagle Scout from Wyoming became the quickest Republican in history to win a "Golden Gavel" from his peers by presiding 100 hours over Senate debates-a decidedly unglamorous freshman chore which Enzi undertook for his own education. Enzi also holds claim to being the Senate's only accountant and only certified Human Resources Management Professional. It would be safe to bet he's also the first to have walked the exhibit floor at an American Society of Safety Engineers trade show. What makes the former shoe store operator stand out lately is his approach to writing OSHA reform legislation. In his first month on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Enzi says he read six years' worth of OSHA bills. Then he met in person with more than 50 contingents including labor, business, government and Democratic colleagues, trying to build consensus. Enzi introduced his "Safety & Health Advancement Act" (S. 765) in May, 1997. In June, he took his self-proclaimed "breakthrough bill" on the road, presenting it to some 1,000 safety and health professionals gathered in New Orleans for an ASSE conference. In early July, his was one of three pieces of legislation featured in the Senate's first formal OSHA reform hearing of the year.

Common Sense and Conviction

There's no doubt Enzi possesses the power of persuasion. At the July 10 OSHA oversight hearing of the subcommittee on Public Health and Safety, Enzi's down-to-earth demeanor and earnest, engaging style set him apart from his more staid co-committee members.

Packed into a paneled hearing room on the fourth floor of the Dirksen Senate office building on a sunny summer afternoon, OSHA watchers witnessed Enzi in action for nearly four hours-first pitching his new bill alongside Judd Gregg (R-RI) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) (who have both introduced recycled bills that failed in the last Congress), then questioning panelists from labor, industry, and OSHA.

Pete Lunnie of the Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, representing big and small business at the hearing, describes as "novel" Enzi's law-making manner. "It's one of the few times when a [legislator] has taken such a straightforward approach, talking to people who'd be affected by the bill," says Lunnie. Common sense, perhaps. "Anywhere but Washington," Lunnie quips.

"He's not your typical politician," says American Industrial Hygiene Association Government Affairs Director Aaron Trippler. "Anybody can tell, he's genuinely interested. He understands the issue better than some have in the past," says Trippler.

Enzi claims his interest in OSHA reform is indeed sincere. His conviction-that political posturing should not be allowed to block the way of "good common sense legislation" that employers and workers desperately need-is borne of his days doing double-duty as an accountant/safety officer for a small Wyoming oil well servicing company, and of his encounters as a state legislator with employers struggling with OSHA compliance.

Nonetheless, Enzi might find out common sense and conviction aren't what laws are made of. One after another during the hearing, Democratic Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), and Jack Reed (D-RI), as well as Acting OSHA Director Greg Watchman, commended Enzi's hard work and thoroughness. But none are convinced of his bill's worthiness.

Avoiding sacred cows

Just why they aren't sold baffles Enzi. His bill steers clear of the controversial points raised by other OSHA reform efforts. For instance, he doesn't touch NIOSH. And he leaves out a Hutchison provision that would require employees to discuss safety problems with employers before filing a complaint. Enzi says he carefully considered all the myriad interest groups' concerns before writing his bill. "The contentious parts have been left out," he says.

"There aren't too many sacred cows there," says AIHA's Trippler.

Still, the Senator's measure has opponents with serious concerns. To begin with, there's the third-party inspection plan, the guts of Enzi's bill: employers who pay an OSHA-certified consultant to evaluate their site would be exempt from penalties for two years.

Under current staffing conditions, OSHA is able to inspect only one percent of all worksites, Enzi points out. His idea is to boost the agency's resources and expand its reach. With the exception of a CSP who testified that third-party consultants' accountability would be in question, most business owners and health and safety professionals, perhaps infected with opportunism, back up Enzi on this provision.

Greg Watchman, prefacing his remarks by noting that the Clinton administration has no position yet on Enzi's bill, pointed out that a consultant paid by an employer to conduct an inspection could be "persuaded to find fewer flaws within a plant."

Nor is labor in favor of the idea. "Enzi certainly has a point regarding the limited number of OSHA inspectors," Needletrades Employees Union Health and Safety Director Eric Frumin told ISHN. "But his answer is to privatize rather than promote and strengthen." Testimony Frumin gave before the subcommittee faulted the third-party plan for not obligating "self-serving consultants" to involve workers the way government inspectors do.

Frustrating feedback

Clearly frustrated by the feedback, Enzi complained he had "not received any constructive criticism" from labor. None of the 50 groups he consulted with before writing the bill had rejected the third-party audit plan, he added. Other major points of Enzi's bill, and critiques, include: ·
  • Requiring a National Academy of Sciences review of legislation before issuing new OSHA standards. Watchman said this would slow down the rulemaking process perhaps by a year or two for each rule; others are just wary of bringing another agency into the process. ·
  • Allowing drug and alcohol testing in conjunction with work-related fatalities or serious injuries. Labor representatives and Watchman said this provision would violate workers' rights; ·
  • Permitting OSHA to issue penalties of up to $500, but not less than $50, to employees who willfully violate any OSHA rule or regulation. Watchman complained that where OSHA reform should include provisions to strengthen workers' rights, this provision would remove rights. ·
  • Mandating bi-annual certification and training every five years for all OSHA inspectors. Watchman explained OSHA inspectors already undergo ongoing refresher courses and training.

Destined for the dustbin?

Not letting his enthusiasm ebb, Enzi is still pushing for a mark-up of his bill before the August Senate recess. But Capitol Hill sources say a more likely scenario is that a combined Enzi/Hutchison/Gregg OSHA reform bill will emerge sometime after the recess. After all, Gregg has shepherded the project for the past few years, and Enzi is a freshman. Even if Enzi's bill got to the floor, there are bets that Hutchison- and Gregg-type amendments would be added there.

That worries Enzi's camp: "Provisions in the other two bills are very contentious," says an Enzi staffer. If merged with the others, he says, his boss's bill "could end up where others have in the past." That would be the dustbin.