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OSHA Chief Promises Passion And a Tougher Enforcement Edge?

Barely 7 weeks into the job, OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. pledged to try to touch the hearts of employers with the message of workplace safety and health but also promised that safety scofflaws will "see Ed Foulke up close and personal."

Foulke, delivering a keynote address at the 2006 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo in Chicago his first speaking engagement at a major safety and health show noted early on in his address that enforcement is a vital tool in OSHA's arsenal. He tempered those remarks by suggesting that OSHA should be thought of as a trusted local policeman "on the corner beat" readily available for assistance but also quick to enforce the law.

"OSHA has to be the same way," Foulke said. "You can come to OSHA. We can help you. At the same time, you need to know if you're not willing to be helped, you're going to get citations and penalties."

Foulke credited former OSHA Administrator John Henshaw for pushing the agency to establish a more cooperative relationship with employers through efforts such as the Voluntary Protection Program, alliances and other outreach and compliance assistance initiatives.

Still, Foulke also hinted that a tougher enforcement edge might be ahead for the agency. He said OSHA needs to reach out to employers without comprehensive safety and health programs, "touch their hearts" and let them know that "OSHA is here to help." But he promised consequences if those employers refuse to work with OSHA or make their work sites safer.

"It's my job to go after those people," Foulke said.

Foulke pointed out that he recently met with an OSHA area director who was lamenting that one defiant employer in his area refuses to pay fines, tears up OSHA citations and sends subpoenas back to the agency. Foulke told the area director to send the employer's name to him in Washington "because I'm not going to stand for it."

If the employer doesn't make some changes, Foulke said: "I will go personally to deal with it. … That's how passionate I am."

'One Fatality is One Fatality Too Many'

Foulke noted later in his address that much of his passion for workplace safety and health stems from his work as an OSHA attorney at the law firm of Jackson Lewis LLP in Greenville, S.C. and Washington. Foulke also served on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission from 1990 to 1995, chairing the commission from March 1990 to February 1994.

He recalled getting started in occupational safety and health law about 25 years ago when he represented a construction contractor that experienced a fatality. Foulke said that he was touched by the "devastating effect" the worker's death had not only on the worker's family but also on the company and the community.

"That's why I decided to get fully involved in workplace safety and health," Foulke said. "I saw the dramatic effect this fatality had on this community and this company. I was trying to make a difference, trying to help them not only resolve the issues they had but to make them safer. That's how I got into this area."

Pointing out that "one fatality is one fatality too many," Foulke promised to hew closely to OSHA's mission of preventing workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

"I have to be mission-driven," Foulke said. "You're not going to find anyone else as mission-driven as I am with respect to safety and health."

Foulke also briefly touched on a number of hot topics on OSHA's plate, including the hexavalent chromium standard, permissible exposure limits and the agency's role in preparing for a potential bird flu pandemic. He framed his remarks by thanking industrial hygienists and OSHA employees for their contributions to workplace safety and health and by calling upon safety and health stakeholders for their assistance.

"We're going to be mission-driven, but I need your help," Foulke said. "We can all make this a safer country and make sure more and more people go home safe and sound to their families and loved ones."

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