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He's out of there - Henshaw leaves the OSHA hot seat

December 10, 2004
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As widely expected, OSHA chief John Henshaw announced this week his resignation from the agency effective the last day of 2004.

Serving from August 3, 2001, to December 31, 2004, Henshaw's tenure at OSHA was the second-longest of any agency boss, following Dr. Eula Bingham, who ran the agency from April 1977 until January 1981 in the Carter administration.

The contrast between Bingham and Henshaw underscores the changes at OSHA in the past two decades. Emotional and combative, Bingham came out swinging, issuing rules on a cancer policy, benzene, cotton dust, lead, employee access to exposure and medical records, chemical labeling (right to know) and hearing conservation.

She chided business for expending "too much effort in opposing regulation as a basic strategy," and was honored by the United Steelworkers for making OSHA "the kind of regulatory agency we had hoped it would be."

Henshaw, a smoother, cooler administrator, will garner no such plaudits from unions on his way out. He accomplished little with new standards, instead creating more than 200 partnerships and nearly 200 alliances with businesses and trade groups, growing the Voluntary Protection Program to more than 1,100 sites, and turning OSHA's Web site into a training and compliance assistance library attracting more than 50 million visitors a year.

Henshaw used his corporate background and the OSHA bully pulpit to preach that safety and health add value to a business, and that "if you're just focusing on compliance, then you are not a true safety and health professional. All you are is a compliance specialist."

His biggest disappointment might have been failing to revise hundreds of old exposure limits that Henshaw, a lifelong industrial hygienist, knew were far out of date. "It's still something we've got to address," he said in a recent interview with ISHN.

What kind of mark did Henshaw, a committed EHS professional, leave at OSHA? "Our people want to make a difference," he said in an ISHN interview last month. "It's more than doing a hundred inspections. Our people enjoy being asked to help; they like being connected to people. We're giving them the freedom to use an array of tools.

"On the outside they appear to just be digital, you know, doing the job, checking the boxes, following procedures, citing when necessary. Well, they are very engaging people. They are mission-driven and they are driving safety and health in this country."

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