No one in Washington is predicting who will call the shots next year in the House of Representatives. If the Democrats can win just six more seats they will win back control of the House they lost to Newt Gingrich in 1994.
No matter who wins in November, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chair of the Employment, Safety, and Training Subcommittee, is likely to remain a powerful voice in shaping the OSHA of the future.
In an exclusive interview with Occupational Hazards, Enzi outlined his agenda for the agency, and contrasted it with that of his Democratic opponents.
"We have a major philosophical difference: should we provide incentives for businesses to comply with the law, or do we continue to beat them with a big hammer?" he said.
According to Enzi, the main reason employers don''t comply with OSHA regulations is a lack of understanding.
This year, like last, he sponsored an amendment to OSHA''s appropriation that required half of its budget increase for consultation and training and half to increased enforcement.
Last year, there was debate on the amendment, but this year, Democrats accepted the measure.
"It''s a policy I would like to see established," said Enzi. "Right now enforcement receives four times as much as consultation, even though OSHA admits 95 percent of employers are good actors."
OSHA rulemaking is another thing the senator would like to change.
He criticized OSHA''s lack of openness in the rulemaking process, pointing to the agency''s use of paid contractors in ergonomics hearings, as well as the lack of scientific peer review of proposed rules.
Last year Enzi introduced the SAFE Act, S. 385, a bill that would have required an independent agency, rather than the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to review OSHA''s new rules.
This provision was criticized by OSHA and its supporters for adding yet another hurdle to the already encumbered rulemaking process.
"But if you look at OSHA''s record," Enzi explained, "10 years is a short time for them, and it''s because of this perception that they know what''s best, and they can test it, and evaluate it, and force it on everybody else."
When asked about his position on specific rules OSHA hopes to promulgate in the future, such as safety and health programs, Enzi promised more battles unless the agency changes its rulemaking process.
"Ergonomics will be opposed, objected to, and even if they pass, probably overturned in the courts," he predicted.
And unless the Republicans keep the House and win the White House, Enzi foresees more battles over how OSHA enforces its rules.
"From all indications there will be continuing controversy, depending on which party gets in office," said Enzi.
by James Nash