Washington’s OSHA watchers were buzzing in late April over signals that the wait for the agency’s new chief might soon be over. John Henshaw, currently director of environment, health and safety for St. Louis-based Astaris LLC, a joint venture between Solutia, Inc., and FMC Corp., is said to be the front runner for the job, according to numerous sources. Henshaw, a certified industrial hygienist, managed health and safety programs for Monsanto for years, and was president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association in 1990-1991.

One source said a White House announcement could come within a week to ten days, though there were also reports that the administration was still interested in someone with small business experience.

Whoever gets the job will have to support the general Bush administration theme for OSHA sounded by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao at a recent Senate hearing. “The new century and the new workforce require a new approach to the safety needs of the American labor force — an approach based on cooperation and prevention, rather than the antiquated adversarial approach of years past,” Chao said.

Sources who know Henshaw say he’s grown tired and frustrated — like many safety and health professionals — over all the OSHA battles of the past two decades, and is genuinely interested in trying to facilitate a new consensus on the agency’s role and future direction.