Is John Henshaw Changing the Way OSHA Does Business?

Oct. 19, 2004
In the second installment of an exclusive interview with OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS' Washington editor, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw explains how he hopes to transform the agency by using modern management techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of all OSHA program activities.

Soon after his confirmation as assistant secretary of Labor for OSHA in August 2001, John Henshaw said he wanted his leadership of the agency to be judged by its performance in bringing down workplace illnesses, injuries, and fatalities. This "triple bottom line" has been falling for decades, so he made it clear success meant increasing the rate of decline.

OH: In science, for a hypothesis to be meaningful, it must assert something that can be disproved. Workplace fatalities increased in 2003, but that hasn't altered your conviction OSHA is headed in the right direction. What will it take to disprove your hypothesis about OSHA improvement?

Henshaw: That's why we put in place the Evaluation and Analysis Directorate. Dr. Keith Goddard is charged with putting together an evaluation process so anyone can look at the total package of the triple bottom line.

What we have to do is look at the array of programs we have and isolate them, to see if we're getting the maximum return on our investment. Voluntary Protection Programs are a good example, as are partnerships, alliances, enhanced enforcement and standards. All those things are in that evaluation process. We do look back to see if a standard is producing the impact we want: the same ought to go with any program or activity we do.

People are concerned what benefit alliances are showing. We're not there yet, but once we have enough numbers under our belt Keith's group is going to look at that. Then we'll decide if we think there's another thing we can do to get a better impact.

OH: So your answer is you don't want to be judged by the total performance of OSHA and its ability to bring down illnesses, injuries and fatalities? You want to break it down program by program?

Henshaw: Yes, because what are you going to tell me to do differently otherwise? We need to look at all the things we do and analyze each one of those. Based on the investment we make, are we getting a good return?

OH: Has OSHA ever done this before judge each program's effectiveness in reducing illnesses, injuries and fatalities?

Henshaw: We never had an Office of Evaluation before. We had external GAO [General Accounting Office] and IG [Inspector General] studies. But we shouldn't wait for them. We should do it ourselves.

OH: This kind of internal accountability seems to be absent from OSHA's Strategic Management Plans. OSHA never admits a mistake.

Henshaw: We can't be negative, but as we are advancing we may say, 'That just isn't producing what we had hoped; it only gave us 2 or 5 percent. Let's try this as it may give us 10 percent.

OH: Let's say we don't see a decline in injuries and illnesses and fatalities next year. Are you prepared to stand or fall with those numbers?

Henshaw: Yes. As long as the analysis is done. I'm here for results, and results for me are to make sure people are safe.

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