Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Replacing Don't with Do: OSHA's John Henshaw Wants to Accentuate the Positive. Is It a Plan or a Pipe Dream? (Editor's Notebook)

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Replacing Don't with Do: OSHA's John Henshaw Wants to Accentuate the Positive. Is It a Plan or a Pipe Dream? (Editor's Notebook)

Article excerpt

At the American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) conference in Nashville last month, James Whiting, a witty and insightful Australian safety professional, said "don't" is the most commonly used word in the safety field. Every safety manager in the room (not to mention every parent) who took time to reflect on that remark probably shuddered with self-recognition.

If OSHA has taken the role of scolding parent to industry over the past three decades, its current leader, John Henshaw, seems determined to change that dynamic. In addresses to the ASSE conference and the American Industrial Hygiene Conference the week before, Henshaw told audiences that it was time to "get off the debate and get the job done" regarding ergonomics.

Henshaw's pragmatic message, in a nutshell, is that an ergonomics standard is dead. OSHA spent 10 years and $10 million on the rulemaking and has nothing to show for it. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, industry, labor and the safety and health community should do what they can to support voluntary efforts to reduce musculoskeletal disorders. "I have to convince all the professional societies that [we shouldn't] wait for something else to happen," Henshaw told reporters in Nashville. "Let's work on this now, because injuries are occurring every day, and we need to stop them. ... We just can't wait for a magic bullet or for somebody to come with some other approach."

Of course, building partnerships with trade associations is at the heart of OSHA's approach to reducing ergonomic injuries. The agency has announced efforts to develop industry-specific ergonomic guidelines for nursing homes, retail grocery stores and poultry processing. To move the process along, Henshaw says, the agency s "preference" is to "get participation, get cooperation." He envisions a widespread, continuing effort to promote ergonomic best practices through workshops, conferences and other education efforts. He notes that he has had conversations with many more industry groups regarding guidelines than has been announced. He raised the idea that the agency would encourage industries "lower on the list to do their own guidelines with their own resources."

Not everybody, of course, is in love with the Bush administration's "comprehensive approach to ergonomics. …

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