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Charles Jeffress exit interview

Two days before President Bush’s inauguration, OSHA chief Charles Jeffress held his last press briefing. Jeffress mostly wanted to talk about newly-issued standards covering recordkeeping, steel erection, and needlestick prevention, but he also offered these closing comments:

  • The outcome of the ergonomics standard will probably be decided in court, since “all the players” have filed lawsuits stating their case. “The next administration could clearly choose do something different than we’ve done,” allowed Jeffress. But if the new team at OSHA chooses to modify the requirements and proposes new rulemaking, Jeffress expects legal challenges from those favoring the current standard. He added that the courts or the administration could postpone enforcement of the rule until the legal disputes are resolved.

  • Safety and health pros should not put off ergonomics initiatives until issues surrounding the standard are settled, said Jeffress. “I urge people to look at what they can do to make a difference now. Yes, specific requirements could change, but put a program in place that fits your workplace. Clearly, the message on ergonomics is that musculoskeletal disorders are a problem and many businesses have had success” in reducing them.

  • “OSHA needs a rule on safety and health programs,” said Jeffress. “I leave that one to my successor. We were unable to get it done due to the resources put behind the ergonomics rule.” Not issuing a safety and health program standard was “clearly a disappointment,” he said.

  • Whoever follows Jeffress at OSHA “needs thick skin and a commitment to the mission of the agency,” he said. “They’ll find their priorities. They must stick to their long-term goals and work hard to keep the focus on making progress step by step.”

  • “There will always be suggestions that OSHA can do better,” he said. “If some people aren’t unhappy, you wonder if you’re doing your job.”

  • OSHA must use technology to make safety and health outreach more interactive, according to Jeffress. He said people want interactive advice, but with OSHA’s current Web site set-up the flow of communication is all one way, with the agency pushing out information. Jeffress talked about using expert systems in databases to provide answers to specific questions. “One of the long-term challenges will be to keep up with the demand for information.”

  • OSHA must continue to build on relationships that have been developed outside of Washington with business, labor and trade groups, according to Jeffress. These local partnerships, designed to attack specific safety and health problems, get “lost in the noise” of Washington politics, said Jeffress. He said Congress likes these cooperative ventures, and he said they are a major reason behind OSHA receiving $100 million in budget increases in the past three years. OSHA must continue to make Washington decision-makers aware of its growing number of positive relationships beyond the beltway, or those efforts will not get nurtured, he said.

  • OSHA has made major strides in its safety and health training efforts through grants and the use of the Internet, but still the agency “doesn’t reach the number of people that we should,” said Jeffress. He said Congress wants to fund more training initiatives, and he said training will be a growth area for OSHA for years to come.

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