Henshaw departs as OSHA chief

Tenure saw numerous alliances

The departure of John Henshaw as chief of OSHA ends a close working relationship the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) enjoyed with the agency during Henshaw’s tenure.

AAOHN president Susan Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, says the alliance with OSHA, which targeted workplace violence, biohazard preparation, and ergonomics, was a positive relationship for the occupational nursing association. "We’ve worked closely with OSHA over the last year and a half through our alliance," she says. "We think that in the areas we focused on, it went very well."

At press time, President George W. Bush had not named a successor to Henshaw, but Randolph expressed hope that whoever is the next head of OSHA (Henshaw’s official title is Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health) will continue the alliance with AAOHN. "We look forward to working with the next individual, but that work continuing will be at the pleasure of the next assistant secretary," Randolph explains.

OSHA created the alliance program in 2002, the year after Henshaw was appointed. The cooperative program enables organizations committed to safety and health to work with OSHA to prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in the workplace. OSHA and alliance participants work together to educate and encourage U.S. employers and their employees to make workplace health and safety a priority. Groups that have formed alliances with OSHA include employers, labor unions, trade or professional groups, educational institutions, and government agencies.

Under Henshaw, the agency consistently exceeded inspection goals, and created hundreds of alliances and partnerships with business, labor, and community groups to foster safety and health. There now are more than 1,100 sites in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, more than 200 Strategic Partnerships Program sites, and nearly 200 Alliances.

OSHA also entered into alliances with the American College of Occupational and Environ-mental Medicine, Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare, American Industrial Hygiene Association, and more than a dozen other health care and business organizations, with each alliance focusing, at least in part, on ergonomics. Following Congress’ rollback of ergonomics regulations under President Clinton, OSHA imposed voluntary ergonomics measures to reduce the number of work-related injuries in the United States.

Alan C. McMillan, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, credits Henshaw with "creating an unprecedented synergy among business, labor, government, and the private sector to improve safety for America’s workers" through his advocacy of alliances.

Injury rates down

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, in a press release announcing Henshaw’s resignation, commented, "John’s efforts have been instrumental in creating safer and more healthful workplaces. Under his leadership, workplace fatalities have declined to record lows, and fatalities among Hispanic workers, which had been increasing since 1995, have been reduced by nearly 12% since 2001."

In touting his administration’s achievements, Henshaw stated that the agency exceeded its inspection goal for FY 2004, completing 39,167 total inspections, including more than 300 under the new Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) that focuses on employers who repeatedly ignore their safety and health obligations. OSHA also completed nearly 3,000 inspections within industries identified with high injury and illness rates.

"Our enforcement remained strong in FY ’04," Henshaw commented in a prepared statement. "We exceeded our inspection goals; we strengthened our compliance assistance through our new enhanced enforcement program; and we found more violations and issued more serious and willful citations indicating a more accurate targeting system for workplaces and industries with a high proportion of injuries and illnesses."

Henshaw says the agency cited 86,708 violations of OSHA standards and regulations during FY ’04, an increase of 3.8% over the previous year and nearly 10% over the last five-year period. Henshaw commented that the increases demonstrate that OSHA is targeting the right workplaces for inspections by accurately identifying employers who repeatedly or willfully violate the law.

OSHA’s approach during his three-plus years at the helm "is validated by the fact that workplace injury, illness, and fatality rates are at their lowest levels ever, even as the work force continues to expand," Henshaw stated. "That is the ultimate measure of our success: More workers go home safe and healthy to their families at the end of every workday."

But the agency, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, was criticized for their response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. Long-term illness has been reported among rescue and recovery workers at the site. OSHA determined that it would not enforce safety and health rules at the site, ruling that the urgent nature of the event did not allow time to invoke normal procedures.