U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., has introduced the new Safety Advancement for Employees (SAFE) Act of 2004.

"I feel a responsibility to every worker and every worker's family to do all I can to prevent workplace accidents and deaths," Enzi said on the Senate floor, introducing his bill.

Highlights of the bill's provisions:

  • The third-party consultation provision in the bill provides a program for employers to voluntarily enlist the help of highly trained, OSHA-certified, safety and health professionals to create safe and healthy work sites for employees.

    The Secretary of Labor would establish an advisory committee to make recommendations on certification standards for individuals participating in third-party audit and evaluation programs.

    In March, the General Accounting Office reported that using consultants could leverage existing OSHA resources by helping workplaces that might never otherwise see an OSHA inspector, said Enzi.

  • Employers that fully utilize the program and comply with safety laws will be awarded a certificate of compliance. This certificate will exempt the owner from any civil penalties for a period of one year while still allowing OSHA to inspect work sites at OSHA's discretion.

  • The SAFE Act would require OSHA to develop and post sample models of material safety data sheets on its Web site for the most highly hazardous chemicals, offering workers and businesses greater access to clear and accurate hazard information.

    Model MSDSs would cover the highly hazardous chemicals listed on the Process Safety Management Standard. These Model MSDSs must comply with OSHA's hazard communication standard and be in a consistent format that enhances the reliability and clarity of chemical hazard information.

  • The SAFE Act also establishes a commission to consider and make recommendations to Congress on adoption of the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

    In 2002, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, establishing standardized requirements for hazard evaluation, safety data sheets, and labels. Whether the United States adopts it cannot be decided by OSHA alone. Other agencies involved in regulating hazardous chemicals must be involved, said Enzi.

  • The SAFE Act also contains increased criminal penalties for the worst workplace safety offenders. The maximum jail sentence for willful safety violations that result in a worker's death will increase from six months, which is a misdemeanor, to 18 months, which is a felony.

    The maximum imprisonment from repeat willful violations that result in a worker’s death is increased from one year to three years.

  • All OSHA personnel performing inspection, consultation and standards-setting functions requiring knowledge of safety or health disciplines would have to obtain private sector professional certification within two years of initial hire at OSHA. Plus, OSHA personnel who carry out inspections or consultations must also receive ongoing professional education and training every five years of employment.

  • At its own discretion, OSHA would be allowed to investigate complaints other than through an on-site inspection. Some complaints may only take a phone call or written inquiry to clear up; this provision will allow OSHA to have the discretion to save its inspectors time for investigating the most serious of problems.

  • Citations in violation of OSHA regulations would be vacated if an employer can demonstrate that employees were protected by alternative methods equally or more protective of the workers' safety and health.

  • OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) would be codified to encourage comprehensive safety and health management systems, and particularly small business participation in the VPP program.

  • Employers would be permitted to establish drug and alcohol abuse testing programs. The provisions would preempt any provisions of state law that are inconsistent with this section.

  • OSHA inspectors would be permitted to issue warnings in lieu of citations in appropriate situations where there is no significant relationship to employee safety or health or the employer acts in good faith to abate a non-willful or non-repeat violation.