OSHA chief John Henshaw's plans to revitalize the agency, interrupted by the terrorist attacks of September 11, are slowly moving from a set of principles to practical programs.

A manager's retreat last fall started the process, setting up working groups of six to eight top officials zeroing in on Henshaw's priorities. In an exclusive interview with ISHN, Henshaw described how you'll see OSHA swing into action:

  • Recalcitrant employers - "When we go back to the same workplace again and again and keep finding the same problems and violations, we have failed," says Henshaw. "We've got to create real change. We're brainstorming ideas on how to get the job done, on how to reach these employers."

  • Partnerships - Ideas are being kicked around for getting more participation in existing programs, and for creating more programs. OSHA also wants more companies engaged in programs like the Voluntary Protection Program. "VPP may be only for some companies," says Henshaw. "Is there another level of voluntary programs we can set up?"

  • Promoting safety's value - "OSHA should not be afraid of promoting the value of safety and health," says Henshaw. "There's the perception that whenever OSHA is involved, it's only to create standards or enforce standards. We need to change that perception. We need to help develop the business case for safety. We've got a lot of experience in how safety helps the bottom line."

  • Compliance assistance - One of the pet projects here is to improve outreach services to employers and employees by upgrading training for OSHA personnel, particularly through widely recognized certification programs such as the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) courses. "We won't mandate that our people be certified, but we want to show that we value certification and want to make it easier to obtain it," says Henshaw. Time and money are obvious barriers. Congress has helped on the funding end, allocating money in OSHA's 2002 budget to pay for certification.

    Henshaw says his working teams are coming up with both short- and long-term ideas in these priority areas. After the brainstorming comes evaluation. "Are the ideas effective? Legal? Can they be implemented?" asks Henshaw.

    Reports from the work groups started coming to Henshaw in February and March, and OSHA's energetic boss (who puts in 12- to 16-hour days) is ready to roll. "There's some low-hanging fruit (more easily implemented ideas) I want to go after first, and also some long-term ideas."