Henshaw: OSHA Ought to Lead Dialogue on Safety, Health

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw sketched the broad outlines of his priorities for the agency during the first media roundtable of his tenure.

Just two weeks after being confirmed as assistant secretary of Labor for OSHA, John Henshaw sketched the broad outlines of his priorities for the agency during the first media roundtable of his tenure.

"I see OSHA taking a leadership role in advancing the dialogue of safety and health," said Henshaw, who added this means "going beyond" OSHA''s traditional activities such as enforcement and standard setting.

The new OSHA chief promised, however, to maintain a robust enforcement policy because "there clearly are establishments that only respond to deterrence."

Henshaw was less clear about how much emphasis he intends to place on issuing new standards or updating old ones, such as permissible exposure levels.

When asked about new standards and the agency''s time-consuming standard setting process, Henshaw replied that OSHA''s fall regulatory agenda is currently under review, and it will be published at the usual time.

The new OSHA administrator also stated at the outset of the briefing that he could answer no questions about ergonomics or the recordkeeping rule.

Besides assuming national leadership and maintaining vigorous enforcement of existing standards, Henshaw vowed to concentrate on two other pieces of OSHA''s mission: voluntary programs, and compliance assistance. He offered no specifics on how he intended to improve these program areas.

Henshaw also had no details about how OSHA would lead the national dialogue on safety and health. He did explain that attending the "Safety Summit", held March 29-30 at Georgetown University, was crucial in convincing him that OSHA needs to step up the plate.

"I think that [Safety Summit] may be a defining moment," he said. One of the major themes of the summit was that there was a leadership vacuum at the national level with respect to occupational health and safety. OSHA officials attended the event, but spoke little.

Henshaw said he was not yet certain how to build on the summit, but he promised that finding a way to follow up on it would be a major priority for him.

"There''s not enough time to do it all, so we''re going to have to be careful how we pick these venues. But we''re going to do that, and that''s where my energies our going to be directed."

by James Nash

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