OSHA's Top Job: The Third Man

As the new administration enters its third month without\r\nnominating a new assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, agency\r\nwatchers identified a third candidate.

As the new administration enters its third month without nominating a new assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, agency watchers identified a third candidate who appears to be on the short list to head OSHA, joining former labor commissioner for Virginia John Barr and Astaris''s John Henshaw.

Dennis Nolan, CSP, is the third man''s name, and he is currently a Republican assemblyman in Nevada as well as the corporate director for safety and loss prevention at the American Transportation Companies (ATC).

While Henshaw''s bid to replace former OSHA administrator Charles Jeffress has been backed by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), Nolan is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

Nolan said he was interviewed for the position in March and as of last week was still waiting to hear about his status.

One of Nolan''s qualifications is he combines business with political experience. ATC provides transportation, such as taxi and shuttle bus service, throughout the nation. Nolan says he has experience with OSHA compliance, workers'' compensation and a variety of other regulatory issues.

Based on his experience, Nolan believes that ergonomics "will come back to us."

"I would look forward to developing a compromise on ergonomics," Nolan added. "Something that would address the real issues, but not penalize employers who are taking measures to prevent repetitive motion illnesses."

Asked about his assessment of OSHA, Nolan identified two things that need to be addressed before the agency could get down to work improving health and safety.

First, OSHA has to repair relations with Congress, damaged during the fight over ergonomics. Many members of Congress are former state legislators, so there are some who think Nolan might be the man for this job.

Improving morale at OSHA, also hurt by the repeal of the ergonomics standard, is a second priority, according to Nolan.

Being able to manage and inspire a large bureaucracy is no easy job, one that differs from the political skills needed to get along with Congress.

Having a solid background in the technical issues of safety and health is a third skill set that many stakeholders believe is crucial for success as an OSHA administrator.

Some labor representatives have speculated that the delay in nominating a new OSHA administrator is another sign of the low priority the Bush administration attaches to the agency.

Given the complex demands of the job, it is possible that the delay in nominating an OSHA administrator is due to the difficulty in finding a candidate who is able -- and willing -- to do the job.

At a news briefing last Monday, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao was asked when she expected to nominate an OSHA administrator.

"As soon as I find a good one," she replied. "A good one means someone who has experience, who understands the field -- that is a very, very important position."

by James Nash

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