Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Leading OSHA to a New Business Model. (Leaders)

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Leading OSHA to a New Business Model. (Leaders)

Article excerpt

For more than 25 years, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA John Henshaw has been an occupational safety and health leader in private industry. Now he's using his talents to run OSHA like a successful business.

Since his confirmation on Aug. 3, 2001, John Henshaw has repeatedly emphasized that he has four priorities for the agency. Above all, he wants OSHA to be a leader in occupational safety and health. In addition, Henshaw is pursuing three other priorities: strong enforcement; outreach, education and compliance assistance; and voluntary programs and partnerships.

OH: You've been on the job for a little more than a year. What kind of progress have you made on your four priorities?

Henshaw: The overreaching goal is we need to demonstrate leadership. I don't want to say that's a cultural change, but it is a new emphasis.

I think we're successful in that, because I do see a lot of our people thinking outside the box on how to get people engaged, to sell safety and health more than we've done in the past.

OH: Can you point to an example?

Henshaw: When we do enforcement, we ought to think about how we can achieve the result that we're looking for: a changed workplace. We don't want just to go through the motions of inspecting and citing.

Bath Iron Works [in Bath, Maine] is a good example. We had some significant enforcement action with them routinely; there were lots of things that kept popping up over and over again.

So our folks started talking to their senior management. They got management to agree: "This is crazy! Why continue in the cycle of paying the government for penalties when the money could be reinvested back in the organization?"

It was obvious they had some labor-management issues. Management recognized if they could solve some of these safety problems, they could improve labor relations, productivity and everything else that goes along with poor injury and illness rates.

Now this company is being proactive to fix the problems. [Editors note: According to OSHA, the company agreed in April to implement at all its worksites comprehensive safety and health programs that will conform to the criteria set forth in OSHA's Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines.] We need to make sure they get there and measure their progress. But in my mind, that's leadership.

OH: You have always said that your ultimate purpose is to bring down injury illness and fatality numbers.

Henshaw: The triple bottom line.

OH: How long will it take before the improvements you hope for show up in Bureau of Labor Statistics (BIS) data.

Henshaw: It could take 3 to 5 years to have it measured in the traditional way, with BLS. But I'm hoping we can measure performance now.

We can do it with partnerships. Part of our purpose with partnerships is to measure before and after, to see if there's been a change. And the prime example is the partnership we formed in Idaho with construction companies. We got together with 27 contractors and from 2001 to 2002 we reduced fatalities from 18 to 3. And construction employment has gone up.

We've had a tenfold increase in inspections because we've used our construction partners to do inspections as well as us.

OH: But critics will say you're picking your spots. …

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