Henshaw: OSHA Will Improve Its Image

Sept. 27, 2001
The new OSHA administrator, speaking at the National Safety\r\nCouncil Congress, vows to turn the nation's job safety agency into\r\none in which safety and health professionals can be proud.

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John Henshaw, OSHA''s new administrator, spent two days recently at "ground zero" to witness how 25 to 30 of the agency''s workers were helping the rescue effort at the World Trade Center in New York City.

What he saw was an example of the image he wants to portray of the nation''s job safety agency.

OSHA officials are not there to enforce any regulation or tell rescue workers whether they are working safely, Henshaw said. Instead, they are providing advice and information about personal protective equipment, handing out thousands of respirators, performing fit checks and taking air samples.

"We wanted to show our support, and we wanted to make clear that the Department of Labor and OSHA cared about the well-being of those engaged in the rescue work and those ready to return to work in lower Manhattan,"

Henshaw told about 2,000 attendees Tuesday at the National Safety Council''s Congress & Expo in the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

"OSHA was there to help those folks do their jobs," said Henshaw. Being a help, instead of a hindrance, is Henshaw''s goal for OSHA during his tenure, expected to last at least the next 3 1/2 years of the Bush presidency.

While still vowing that OSHA will have "strong, effective and fair enforcement," the agency will be one that works in partnership in a greater way with other stakeholders to reduce workplace injury and illnesses via outreach, education, compliance assistance, partnerships and voluntary programs.

One area where many employers and EHS professionals believe OSHA has been a hindrance is in inconsistent interpretations of standards by enforcement officers.

Henshaw told Congress attendees to expect a strong effort to better train and qualify agency personnel.

"The true effectiveness of enforcement depends upon the skills, training and expertise of OSHA inspectors. They must be prepared to do more than interpret standards and issue citations. They need to emerge as experts with the credibility and authority to make a difference in the workplace," he said.

"This will help reduce the adversarial perception of the agency and increase our effectiveness."

Henshaw has asked a group of OSHA staffers, headed by Hank Payne from the OSHA Training Institute, to review requirements and costs to get professional certifications for OSHA inspectors and other agency employees. The group will look at long-term and short-term options available to achieve this goal, he said.

Many employers have indicated they want to work with OSHA to improve the inspection process. Henshaw said the agency needs to find ways to engage them, along with workers, in eliminating hazards and improving safety and health in the workplace.

"When we speak with our stakeholders, we need to do so in terms they understand," he said. "That may call for some changes in preparing our inspectors for the job. Perhaps we''ll want to draw more of our inspectors from the private sector or have OSHA inspectors complete internships with companies before becoming an inspector. By experiencing business and using business terminology in future work, we might get our point across more effectively."

By the end of his tenure, Henshaw predicts, OSHA will have an improved image. His goal is for employers to not cringe whenever an OSHA official arrives at their work sites.

"It''s going to be a long process," he said, "but it will be a very pleasant change for all of us in the safety and health field. "People will congratulate OSHA for being there."

by Todd Nighswonger

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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