Sen. Mike Enzi Elected Chair of Senate Labor Committee

Efforts to "reform" OSHA will likely have a higher profile in the new Congress, as Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who used to chair the Senate's OSHA oversight subcommittee, has been chosen by his Republican colleagues to head the full Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

No one has yet been named to replace Enzi on the Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training.

Near the end of the last session of Congress, Enzi introduced legislation that seeks to improve hazard communication and provide incentives for employers to use third-party safety and health consultants while making it a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison if a worker dies as a result of a willful violation of OSHA standards. Under current law, the maximum criminal penalty for willfully violating OSHA rules is a misdemeanor conviction and six months in jail.

"I am looking forward to a very productive session with the HELP Committee," said Enzi. "I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and begin work with Senator Kennedy and other members across the aisle, the administration and stakeholders in efforts to help to ensure that every child in America receives a quality education, provide Americans access to affordable, quality health care and protect workers and their pensions."

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on the committee, also has introduced OSHA reform legislation that would toughen the agency's enforcement powers.

Although there is now bi-partisan agreement between the two ranking members of the HELP Committee that willful OSHA violations that cause a fatality should be felonies, it is far from certain this will become law, as Kennedy and Enzi's OSHA reform packages differ in many other respects.

"Both Enzi and Kennedy favor felonies, but business has problems with this and in the new Congress their influence has grown, so I'm not sure this has much chance of passing," commented Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

While he is doubtful Enzi's reform bill would become law in its entirety, Trippler believes some provisions of it, such as improvements to OSHA's Material Safety Data Sheets, might have a chance.

Enzi's promotion to chairman of the full committee also increases the chances of more OSHA hearings and oversight, according to Trippler.

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