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It's official: Henshaw takes the helm at OSHA

August 10, 2001
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OSHA's new boss, John Henshaw, officially started work on August 6 after breezing through his Senate confirmation hearing on August 2 and getting the full Senate's approval on August 3.

Mr. Henshaw, most recently the director of environment, safety and health for Astaris, LLC in St. Louis, becomes the third safety and health professional from industry to take the helm at OSHA, following John Pendergrass (1986-1989), an industrial hygienist from 3M, and Jerry Scannell (1989-1992), safety and health director for Johnson & Johnson.

Senators from both sides of the aisle praised Mr. Henshaw's quarter-century of professional experience and commitment to worker safety and health in a low-key, one-hour hearing before a crowd of about 80 onlookers, half of whom seemed to come from Mr. Henshaw's extended family.

Eying the three rows of Henshaw family members, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), perhaps the Senate's more aggressive advocate of an ergonomics rule, joked that some of his more pointed questions would have to wait for another day.

Wellstone and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-MA) used the hearing to again press their argument for an ergo rule. Asked by Sen. Wellstone where he stood on the question of an ergo standard, Mr. Henshaw said, "I'm coming at this with a fresh pair of eyes. Certainly we must consider all options, but we must review and study the information (from three public forums) first."

Laying out his philosophy for running OSHA, Mr. Henshaw said OSHA must strike a balance between "strong, consistent enforcement," "creative partnerships such as the Voluntary Protection Program," and training programs.

Sounding a cautionary note, he said enforcement is essential, but also reactive and limited in its impact. As for standards, he said, "Poor regulations tarnish arguments for the value of safety and health."

Asked by Sen. Kennedy to name his major priorities, Mr. Henshaw said he wanted to improve the credibility and effectiveness of the agency through: 1) strong enforcement provided by competent inspectors; 2) outreach and education efforts to OSHA's customers; and 3) increased and improved voluntary programs.

Mr. Henshaw made no mention of standards-setting priorities in his remarks, reinforcing the widely-held belief in Washington that the Bush administration won't release any new OSHA rules in the next three years unless forced to do so by Congress.

Mr. Henshaw did promise the Senators that he would report back to them on beryllium health hazards, the adequacy of OSHA penalties and the safety of immigrant workers - three issues raised at the hearing.

If Mr. Henshaw serves out the remainder of the Bush first term, as most observers expect, he'll become the second-longest-serving OSHA chief in the agency's 31-year history, next to Eula Bingham, who ran OSHA during the Carter years.

"I'm ready to get to work," he said after the hearing.

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