John Henshaw, OSHA''s new administrator, spent two days recently at "ground zero" to witness how 25 to 30 of the agency''s workers were helping the rescue effort at the World Trade Center in New York City.
What he saw was an example of the image he wants to portray of the nation''s job safety agency.
OSHA officials are not there to enforce any regulation or tell rescue workers whether they are working safely, Henshaw said. Instead, they are providing advice and information about personal protective equipment, handing out thousands of respirators, performing fit checks and taking air samples.
"We wanted to show our support, and we wanted to make clear that the Department of Labor and OSHA cared about the well-being of those engaged in the rescue work and those ready to return to work in lower Manhattan,"
Henshaw told about 2,000 attendees Tuesday at the National Safety Council''s Congress & Expo in the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
"OSHA was there to help those folks do their jobs," said Henshaw. Being a help, instead of a hindrance, is Henshaw''s goal for OSHA during his tenure, expected to last at least the next 3 1/2 years of the Bush presidency.
While still vowing that OSHA will have "strong, effective and fair enforcement," the agency will be one that works in partnership in a greater way with other stakeholders to reduce workplace injury and illnesses via outreach, education, compliance assistance, partnerships and voluntary programs.
One area where many employers and EHS professionals believe OSHA has been a hindrance is in inconsistent interpretations of standards by enforcement officers.
Henshaw told Congress attendees to expect a strong effort to better train and qualify agency personnel.
"The true effectiveness of enforcement depends upon the skills, training and expertise of OSHA inspectors. They must be prepared to do more than interpret standards and issue citations. They need to emerge as experts with the credibility and authority to make a difference in the workplace," he said.
"This will help reduce the adversarial perception of the agency and increase our effectiveness."
Henshaw has asked a group of OSHA staffers, headed by Hank Payne from the OSHA Training Institute, to review requirements and costs to get professional certifications for OSHA inspectors and other agency employees. The group will look at long-term and short-term options available to achieve this goal, he said.
Many employers have indicated they want to work with OSHA to improve the inspection process. Henshaw said the agency needs to find ways to engage them, along with workers, in eliminating hazards and improving safety and health in the workplace.
"When we speak with our stakeholders, we need to do so in terms they understand," he said. "That may call for some changes in preparing our inspectors for the job. Perhaps we''ll want to draw more of our inspectors from the private sector or have OSHA inspectors complete internships with companies before becoming an inspector. By experiencing business and using business terminology in future work, we might get our point across more effectively."
By the end of his tenure, Henshaw predicts, OSHA will have an improved image. His goal is for employers to not cringe whenever an OSHA official arrives at their work sites.
"It''s going to be a long process," he said, "but it will be a very pleasant change for all of us in the safety and health field. "People will congratulate OSHA for being there."
by Todd Nighswonger