Professional Certification; Does OSHA Lead by Example?

The numbers of OSHA employees with professional certification jumped by more than 33 percent in 2004 when compared to last year.

However, only two of the nine top senior OSHA executives who lead the agency's various directorates are certified.

According to the most recent figures provided by the agency, a total of 301 OSHA employees now have professional certification, compared to 226 last year.

Encouraging OSHA inspectors to become certified has been a priority of OSHA Administrator John Henshaw, and the recent numbers indicate the effort has been a particular success with those working outside the national office.

The increasing certification of field inspectors is intended, in part, to increase OSHA's credibility with employers during inspections. More than 20 percent of the 1,123 inspector positions authorized in FY 2004 now have professional certification.

Certification of OSHA employees in the national office is proceeding more slowly; it increased 12 percent from last year but it appears no senior executives are among this number.

According to one long-time OSHA observer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the paucity of professional certification among OSHA's top career leadership raises two issues.

"It is true to some extent everywhere, but OSHA is particularly prone to promoting people based on personal connections and going along with the party line, instead of professional accomplishment or merit," said the observer. "Second, they have a habit of only promoting people who have been there since birth, and not bringing in outsiders."

An exception to this alleged habit is Keith Goddard, who also happens to be one of two directorate heads who is certified. Goddard, now in charge of the directorate for evaluation and analysis, formerly worked for Maryland's state plan OSHA program. Long-time OSHA hand Rich Fairfax, who heads up the directorate of enforcement programs, is the other certified senior executive. Both Fairfax and Goddard are certified industrial hygienists (CIH).

There are two additional CIHs in leadership positions at national headquarters. Both are in the office of the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, and one of them is John Henshaw himself.

Adam Finkel, an OSHA official now teaching in Princeton, N.J. who was the director of health standards from 1995 to 2000, thinks the current emphasis on professional certification is a distraction from a more significant trend in professional expertise: the brain drain of people needed to produce health standards. He explained that this view reflects his opinion, not OSHA's.

"In 1998 we had 12 PhDs in health standards that's down to two or three today," said Finkel.

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