ASSE: Henshaw Touts the Value of Voluntary Programs

June 9, 2004
OSHA's new initiatives in the areas of partnerships and cooperative programs consumed the lion's share of OSHA Administrator John Henshaw's plenary session address to the American Society of Safety Engineers' Professional Conference held this week in Las Vegas.

Throughout his talk, Henshaw repeatedly stressed the importance of "making the business case, selling the value of safety and health."

Although noting that strong enforcement "is the underpinning of everything we do," and referring briefly to OSHA's compliance assistance efforts, Henshaw quickly moved on to the third element in his long-standing OSHA agenda voluntary programs - as he explained recent progress in three new programs aimed at expanding the number of Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) sites and new alliance activity.

Two weeks ago, OSHA launched OSHA Challenge and VPP Corporate as program programs, and Henshaw told ASSE members that the challenge program is aimed at bringing into VPP companies that might not otherwise be ready for full participation in VPP, while VPP corporate is designed to reduce the barriers faced by some larger corporations that want many of their sites to join VPP.

The VPP Construction program is intended to help VPP adapt to the mobile worksites and workforces that characterize the construction industry and that distinguish it from general industry. Henshaw explained some of the critical issues the agency is grappling with as it moves to complete work "later this year" this third VPP expansion initiative:

  • "What should be required for baseline hazard analysis when we talk about mobile sites and multiple sites scattered throughout the country?"
  • "How should we handle on site evaluations and how many sites should we visit?"
  • "And how do we handle approvals if some sites are ready for Star, and others for Merit or maybe not even there?"

As if to underscore the importance of addressing workplace hazards through voluntary agreements rather than with regulations, Henshaw stressed the success of several alliance agreements with corporations in reducing workplace ergonomic-related injuries. One of the first acts of the current administration was to repeal an ergonomics standard pushed through under President Bill Clinton.

Absent from Henshaw's address was any reference to the fourth part of his vision for the agency: OSHA's role in "leading the national dialogue on workplace safety and health." The OSHA chief mentioned the agency's regulatory mission once, and that was to assure his audience that OSHA will never use regulations to address motor vehicle safety.

After his speech, Henshaw and ASSE President James "Skipper" Kendrick renewed an alliance between the two agencies first signed in December 2002. The alliance is to focus on best practices in motor vehicle safety and ergonomics.

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