An Interview with Senator Mike Enzi

 

On February 26–27, VPPPA members gathered on Capitol Hill to educate members of Congress about the importance of workplace safety and health. The VPP Act (S.904) grants VPP its own line item in OSHA’s budget. VPP is a small program with a big impact. Currently, the programs are funded through “Compliance Assistance—Federal,” alongside other cooperative initiatives. This legislation maintains the existing VPP process and ensures its continued success by codifying it and letting Congress control its funding directly. Safety knows no political party and it is vital to shine a light on successful government initiatives that promote a constructive and productive dialogue between labor, management and regulators.

VPPPA members had the pleasure of interviewing Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming. He has been an integral force in the push to codify the VPP Act for many years.
enzi photo

 

VPPPA:

You have passed more than 100 bills during your tenure. To what do you attribute that success? Out of all that legislation, what stands out as your greatest accomplishment?

Senator Enzi:

I came to Washington, D.C., because I enjoy helping folks in Wyoming and solving problems. I also like to legislate. Over the years, I’ve developed my 80 percent tool—I believe that people can talk civilly about 80 percent of the issues. They can select any of the 80 percent and probably agree on 80 percent of that issue. There is usually disagreement on 20 percent, 10 percent on each side. Passing 80 percent by leaving out the contentious parts to solve later gets a lot accomplished. I discovered this back when I worked in the Wyoming State Legislature and have used it ever since.

The bill I am usually very proud of is one I most recently passed. One such bill is the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act. This bill took years of work and was eventually passed unanimously and enacted into law in 2018. This is a great bill because it makes improvements to career and technical education programs for people who want specific career skills to create and work with their hands in high-wage, high-demand jobs.

Another bill that stands out would be my first bill ever signed into law. It was considered an “impossible task” my freshman year as I heard of the problem with only 30 legislative days left. People were expected to pay back gas royalties because the federal government was declaring gas as part of coal and, therefore, owned by the federal government. My bill to solve the problem passed unanimously in both houses in 30 days.

VPPPA:

What is your position on workplace safety and why do you think workplace safety is a cause worth supporting?

Senator Enzi:

We all deserve to work in a safe place. It is important that workplaces stay proactive and educate workers and employers about best up-to-date health and safety practices. Workers need to watch out for hazards and each other. Supporting workplace safety reduces unnecessary work-related injuries and illnesses that impact hardworking American families. Laws are not the total solution. There will never be enough inspectors to substitute for worker care, but VPP puts a professional on site regularly. Most accidents occur within six months of hiring (not trained enough) or after five years on the job (complacent because it’s been done safely so many times).

VPPPA:

How long have you been involved in the process of codifying VPP? What has been your role in this process?

Senator Enzi:

While the Voluntary Protection Programs has always been of interest to me, I was first involved when I introduced the Safety Advancement for Employees Act in 1997, when I first got to the Senate. From then on I have sponsored legislation that has allowed employers to continue to participate in the program, like in 2015 when Senator Bennet from Colorado and I introduced legislation that would cement the VPP into law, which I continue to work on to this day. I am also pleased that there is a bipartisan companion bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

VPPPA:

What does S.904 mean to you?

Senator Enzi:

The Voluntary Protection Programs Act means continuing by law a process that works to reduce accidents, protecting the hardworking folks who risk their own well-being every day to keep this country going. Creating and maintaining a safe workplace for all Americans has long been a priority of mine. I’m even trying to find a way for a similar program for small businesses to band together with a safety professional.

VPPPA:

How does your past as a small business owner impact your decision to support the VPP Act?

Senator Enzi:

I used to be a safety officer for a small oil well servicing company. I taught first aid and safety in enclosed spaces. I went out in the field and collected saliva tests and urine specimens. As a former small business owner, I understand the importance of maintaining a safe workplace and the work it takes to stay current on new health and safety practices. I also understand the realities of state and federal regulations and that they can be extremely burdensome and costly. I think programs like VPP show we can provide a safe workplace and minimize the burdens, especially on smaller businesses.

VPPPA:

What about the VPP Act sparked your interest in being a long-time supporter? Or what sparked your interest in VPP?

Senator Enzi:

The VPP caught my attention because it is a voluntary program that employers can choose to participate in—and it has been proven to work. But I noticed that it is not a program in law and can be ended by the stroke of a pen by any president and possibly by a secretary of labor. Businesses are often good reflections of people’s passions and this program works to be flexible with all types of businesses. The VPP has shown that it protects the health and safety of employees while saving the government hundreds of millions of dollars in inspections while helping to avoid injuries and illnesses more effectively.


VPPPA:

Why is it important to you to make VPP codification a legacy item for you? How do you see S.904 passing in Congress?

Senator Enzi:

Every day in the Senate, I work to ensure that our grandkids will be left with a better world. We are in a terrible financial situation, owing more than $23 trillion. The VPP saves federal money while it ensures that health and safety needs are maintained for our future workforce better than under any other program. It’s past time to cement this program into law to ensure it continues to provide help for more of America’s businesses. I am hopeful that we can find a bipartisan path forward—perhaps using the 80 percent tool—to secure enactment of this important legislation before the end of this Congress.

VPPPA:

You’ve said that after retiring from the Senate that you will find other ways to serve. Any plans you can share with us?

Senator Enzi:

Throughout my career in public service, I’ve been a mayor, a state legislator, and now a United States Senator. I very much look forward to doing my part in being an active member of the community back in my home state of Wyoming. I also look forward to spending more time with my grandkids and checking more things off my to-do list, like fishing in all 50 states.

VPPPA:

Any additional comments about VPP or workplace safety?

Senator Enzi:

The Voluntary Protection Programs is a tremendous opportunity to encourage public and private businesses to be proactive in the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses through hazard prevention and control, training and cooperation between management and workers. I want to see VPP utilized more, particularly by smaller businesses, and guaranteed to continue for big businesses.