Henshaw Tells NSC: Sell the Value of Safety

Oct. 11, 2002
OSHA Administrator John Henshaw and David Lauriski, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), presented their vision of how to push occupational safety and health to the next level in twin keynote addresses at the National Safety Congress held this week in San Diego.

Both men presented data to support their contention that after years of progress, workplace safety is no longer improving as fast as it should. As a result, they said their agencies will go beyond enforcement with an array of business-friendly approaches that they believe will cut occupational illnesses, injuries and fatalities.

Henshaw and Lauriski said nothing about new regulations in their presentation. Their vision is intended to reach beyond OSHA and MSHA to include the work of everyone in the safety and health community. The core of the message may have been expressed by Henshaw at the end of his speech when he told the attendees: "The time is right to step forward and put the value of safety and health in business and human terms - that must be our project for the future."

Both Lauriski and Henshaw vowed they would preserve vigorous enforcement of health and safety standards as a foundation that supports expanded compliance assistance, partnerships and voluntary programs. Lauriski said inspections per mine in 2001 were the highest ever, while Henshaw said OSHA inspections this year were the highest in eight years, and he promised more next year.

At least three-quarters of OSHA's inspections resulted in serious, repeat or willful violations, proof the agency is going to the "right places," according to Henshaw.

But both men also expressed dissatisfaction with the results of enforcement.

"We won't get to the next level with enforcement alone," said Lauriski. "I believe compliance assistance will be the key to improving mine safety."

Henshaw devoted some time to defending his agency's voluntary ergonomics program, and renewed his promise that it will quickly lead to reductions in reported injuries.

Even though OSHA is not issuing an ergonomics standard, Henshaw argued companies need to address repetitive motion injuries.

In a challenge to opponents of ergonomics regulations he said, "If we don't like the 'one-size fits all approach,' then we better find the size that does fit."

Lauriski, who had to catch a plane to China shortly after his speech, spoke of his efforts to bring MSHA's expertise in mine safety to other nations so there is a "level playing field."

In a question-and-answer period near the end of the program, Henshaw defended his decision to remove scores of items from the regulatory agenda. He said many of the items removed had been worked on for years with little real progress, and he said the current agenda reflects a more realistic assessment of what the agency can do.

"We must be credible. When we say we're going to do something, we're going to do it," he said. "The agenda is not a wish list, but a management tool."

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