Washington, D.C. --Legislation proposed by Senator Mike Enzi that would modernize the Occupational Safety and Health Administrative Act and the agency is steamrolling through Congress.
In a joint press conference with other senators and House members from Republican and Democratic ranks, Senator Enzi unveiled S.1237, the Safety Advancement for Employees Act (SAFE), a new bill that combines all of Enzi's previously introduced OSHA bill with some provisions from another bill that had been introduced by Senator Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
Enzi is gathering support from all the areas needed to get the legislation passed and placed on the President's desk. Rep. Jim Talent, R-Mo., chairman of the House Small Business Committee has introduced companion OSHA legislation on the House side. At least three Democratic representatives are cosponsoring the bill. On the Senate side, Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., the chairman of the Labor Committee and Public Health and Safety Labor Subcommittee Chairman Bill Frist, R-Tenn. are cosponsoring Enzi's bill. All Republican members of the Labor Committee will support the SAFE Act.
"It's for real," said Enzi. "This is the best shot we've had in 30 years of passing legislation that will provide for a safer workplace by creating a cooperative environment between employees, employers and OSHA."
Enzi believes the SAFE Act will succeed, where efforts to reform OSHA in the past failed, because in putting it together he took note of past mistakes and gathered input from all groups affected.
"We're not trying to reinvent the OSHA wheel here, just change its tires," Enzi said. "It's important to point out that the SAFE Act does not dismantle OSHA's enforcement capabilities. That approach has been tried time and time again. But enforcement alone does not make people safer at work. An environment that promotes employees and employers working together does make it safer and that's what the SAFE Act is all about."
Not only have Enzi's supportive colleagues seen the potential for this legislation, but a number of other groups are backing Enzi. These include the National Federation of Independent Business, which has a membership of 600,000, the Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health, the Associated General Contractors of America and the American Society of Safety Engineers, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to name a few.
The SAFE Act contains, among other improvements, a provision that allows and encourages businesses to utilize independent advisors to evaluate the safety of their operation and the legislation would allow employees to share with businesses their safety ideas through employee participation health and safety programs.
Enzi's bill also calls for sound science to be part of the rule making process. Prior to issuing a final rule, the secretary of labor would be required to submit the final rule to the National Academy of Sciences. It's recommendations would be published in the federal register.
There are five additions from Senator Gregg's previous legislation that have been added to Enzi's bill to make up the new SAFE Act. One provision clarifies that an OSHA inspector can advise an employer how to correct a violation during an inspection. Another stipulation allows OSHA to issue a warning instead of a citation if a violation does not represent a threat to safety and the employer agrees to correct the problem. A third item stipulates that paperwork or posting fines would not be assessed unless they are willful or repeated. Another of Gregg's additions sets out criteria employers use in relation to charges of employee misconduct. One other aspect that Gregg added to Enzi's legislation was a section on written requests for OSHA inspections. Under this section of the bill, the request must tell whether the employer is aware of the alleged violation and if the employer has taken action to correct the problem.
Enzi is optimistic about a full Labor Committee markup of the bill in October.