As Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA nominee John Henshaw prepares for Senate confirmation hearings, he appears to have a number of things going for him.
A past president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association,Henshaw possesses impeccable professional and technical expertise. After 26 years of work in private industry, including top management jobs with Monsanto and Astaris LLC, Henshaw also has practical and high-level managerial experience in safety health.
Perhaps most important for success in the highly politicized world of occupational safety, the nominee for the top job at OSHA starts out with the support and the respect of all the agency''s major stakeholder groups.
That Henshaw begins with labor groups behind him is especially significant, given their general skepticism about the Bush administration''s commitment to occupational safety and health.
Whether this honeymoon will survive the debate that is re-igniting over a possible new ergonomics standard is an open question.
"He''s a competent, well-regarded safety and health professional," AFL-CIO''s Peg Seminario commented.
The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) represents workers at Monsanto, so the union has first-hand experience with Henshaw. The union liked what it saw.
Michael Wright, director of health, safety and the environment for USWA said his union "looks forward to Henshaw being confirmed as soon as possible."
Paul Easterday, now Monsanto''s director of environment, safety and health, worked with Henshaw for many years at the company.
Easterday had high praise for Henshaw''s professional and leadership abilities, and pointed to a number of forward-looking decisions Henshaw made while at Monsanto.
"I told John years ago I thought he would one day be OSHA administrator," Easterday said.
As far back as the late 1980s Henshaw was an avid supporter of OSHA''s Voluntary Protection Program. An innovation Henshaw instituted while at Monsanto was a database to collect industrial hygiene information across the corporation, allowing the company to evaluate the statistics comprehensively.
Monsanto has had an ergonomics program for many years, according to Easterday. "And we believe it has been successful," he added.
Henshaw has not stated publicly whether he supports an OSHA ergonomics standard.
Frank White, vice president of Organization Resources Counselors (ORC), praised Henshaw, an active ORC member, as "someone who has always been very positive and who really wants to make a difference at OSHA."
White noted that Henshaw is not a Washington person, so there could be a "steep learning curve as he gets to know the government bureaucracy and the political scene."
But of course, Henshaw has worked in large corporations, which have their own bureaucracies and political scenes.
"You can''t do this work and not have political experience," Wright commented. "Not at his level."
by James Nash