OSHA Administrator Reflects on Past Fiscal Year

An ancient curse allegedly says, "May you live in interesting times." And 2002 was certainly an interesting year for people living and working in the United States. As FY 2002 closes out, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw took a few minutes out to reflect on the year gone by and plans for the future.

"We had major success in FY 2002," said Henshaw, "and we had an issue we had not thought about or planned for…9/11 and what that meant for the agency." OSHA's Manhattan office in the World Trade Center was destroyed in the terrorist attack, but everyone in the office escaped.

The events of September 11 caused OSHA to "rethink, reshuffle and reexamine our role, and it caused the entire nation to do the same," Henshaw admitted.

For eight consecutive years, injury and illness rates have declined, and with the exception of the workplace fatalities caused by the terrorist attacks, fatality rates are falling. Henshaw said the logging of the September 11 fatalities "are being reported in a different way," than other workplace fatalities that occurred in 2002. "They were workplace attacks, but they weren't [caused by] workplace hazards," he noted.

He added that OSHA personnel took 6,600 air samples at the World Trade Center, and issued a total of 130,000 respirators to rescue and recovery workers. At one point, he noted, OSHA was issuing 4,000 respirators a day.

"While we had success, we all know it wasn't successful enough. We all saw individuals who were not wearing respirators," he admitted. And given the tremendous hazards at the site, he acknowledged, "It was remarkable we didn't lose another life during the WTC cleanup. That's due to good people identifying and controlling hazards."

He said there were "many lessons learned" following the attacks. One, related to respiratory protection for responders and cleanup workers, will probably result in OSHA working with firefighters, first responders and affiliated associations in the future to provide training in the use negative pressure respirators like the ones issued during the WTC cleanup and at other emergency response events. Firefighters wear positive air respirators, he noted, and most were never fitted for or trained in the use of negative pressure respirators.

He said the agency also plans to introduce more matrixes, like the one it created to control anthrax exposure in the workplace (See "OSHA Readies Anthrax Matrix" and "Chao Unveils the Anthrax Matrix."), to combat other potential terrorist threats like biological weapons.

"Terrorism is only effective if it causes terror," he said. "The way to combat fear is to give workers enough knowledge to protect themselves."

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