President Bush's nomination of Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. to head OSHA is a more divisive move than his 2001 decision to name John Henshaw to lead the agency.

Foulke has spent several decades defending employers against alleged OSHA citations, and has represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in testifying before Congress on OSHA issues — a resume sure to agitate and worry organized labor safety and health officials and grassroots safety and health activists.

Foulke does not possess the impeccable technical credentials as a safety and health professional that gave Henshaw instant credibility — and at least a brief honeymoon — with all OSHA interest groups.

But compared to many former OSHA bosses, Foulke comes to the job more steeped in the history of OSHA and more knowledgeable about national safety and health policy issues ranging from the PELs to ergonomics to safety and health program implementation to the Voluntary Protection Program.

Almost every OSHA chief has come from a background narrower than Foulke's, in terms of national experience, and have lacked Foulke's kind of Washington savvy and big picture sense of how politics and the courts shape OSHA policy.

OSHA's first administrator ran a department store in Pennsylvania. The second was a union leader. Others have come from the business world (Thorne Auchter, John Pendergrass, Jerry Scannell, John Henshaw), academia (Mort Corn and Eula Bingham) and state government jobs (Joe Dear and Charles Jeffress ). Only Scannell had previous Washington experience at OSHA.

What Foulke will do with his insider savvy is the question.

Clues at this point come from Congressional testimony he has given, representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

On the need to update hundreds of antiquated permissible exposure limits and set new limits for many chemicals introduced since the PELs were developed, Foulke suggested that Congress give OSHA a substantially bigger budget to create a large task force devoted solely to setting new PELs. "OSHA must be encouraged and enabled to address the PEL issue with all deliberate speed," Foulke told Congress.

Safety and health consultants should be pleased that Foulke is a fan of voluntary third-party workplace inspections of the kind advocated by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in his proposed SAFE legislation. Allow "surrogate compliance officers" — qualified and certified safety and health consultants — to conduct voluntary inspections and help develop customized safety and health programs at work sites OSHA may never reach, Foulke told Congress in 1999.

And the growth of the Voluntary Protection Program should continue under Foulke. "The VPP has proved to be a tremendous help in assisting those employers who have chosen to participate in it. The agency brags about these workplaces and this voluntary program, and the praise is well deserved," Foulke told Congress.