Henshaw Pushes for Diversity at OSHA

"We have to build on our strengths; our people are a reflection of our customers," said John Henshaw, administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), speaking to a group of reporters today. The agency is making more of an effort to promote diversity both among its workforce and in the services it offers non-English speaking constituents, he added.

To that end, the OSHA-wide Diversity Workgroup held its first meeting Aug. 22. The mission of the workgroup is to examine ways the agency can "drive diversity," said Henshaw, adding, "I mean that in a broad sense."

Henshaw said the workgroup won't examine just issues related to diversity in race or gender, but in areas such as ethnic or cultural diversity and in the diversity of languages spoken by OSHA employees.

"Diversity is critical to this agency," Henshaw insisted. "It will help us communicate with customers more effectively, improve the quality of our services and help reduce injuries, fatalities and illnesses in the workplace."

Of late, OSHA has made more of an effort to reach out to worker populations that have been ignored in the past. The agency offers a Spanish-language Web site (www.osha.gov/as/opa/spanish/index.html) and has expanded training and outreach efforts for both Spanish-speaking workers and employers. The agency has also formed an alliance with the Hispanic Contractors of America Inc.

OSHA targeted Hispanic workers for special emphasis because it is the only group that has not experienced a decline in worker fatalities. In fact, recent statistics released by the Department of Labor show that Hispanic workers experience 14 percent of workplace fatalities, even though they comprise only 11 percent of the workforce.

Although the agency doesn't know at this point if the efforts are paying off through reduced injuries, illnesses and fatalities for Hispanic workers, Henshaw said the agency is making more of an effort to capture data during site inspections and injury and fatality investigations. "We can't wait for two years to get an indication if our initiatives are working," he said, referring to the two-year lag time that accompanies injury and illness data issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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