Last month, Bush appointee John L. Henshaw, head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the past three years, resigned his post, effective December 31.
Summarizing his tenure, the non-profit group OMB Watch (Office of Management and Budget) noted that, during the past three and a half years, OSHA forged 231 long-term alliances, 214 active partnerships and 1,153 voluntary protection program sites.
“This is his legacy – alliances,” says LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Director Scott Schneider. “Well intentioned, but no substitute for regulation and enforcement.” Many other commentators echoed Schneider who added, “Henshaw’s hands were tied by the Bush White House.”
The next OSHA director may be less “tied” and more “tuned” with Bush Administration thinking. He will be Jonathan L. Snare, a Texas political operative and close Bush ally whose only apparent past connection to health was his stint as a lobbyist for ephedra (a diet and energy substance which has since been banned). According to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Snare will serve as “acting” head of OSHA upon Henshaw’s departure.
Soon after taking over at OSHA, much to the chagrin of safety and health activists, Henshaw withdrew large numbers of rules from the agency’s regulatory agenda. From the tuberculosis standard to safety and health programs, the agency’s regulatory agenda shrank to a shadow of its former size.
Noting that OSHA missed most of its self-imposed regulatory deadlines, the OMB Watch report states that for the first time since the creation of OSHA some 30 years ago, OSHA did not issue a single economically significant standard during the first Bush administration. “It’s a meager output. It’s the black hole of government,” J. Robert Shull, senior regulatory policy analyst at OMB Watch said. “OSHA cleared the decks of its agenda. Just swept it clean.”
In fact, Henshaw’s appointment followed by just a few months Bush’s March, 2001 decision to sign Senate Joint Resolution 6 that repealed one of the most significant and hotly-contested OSHA regulations ever adopted, the ergonomics standard. That standard, more than ten years in the making, set out to address the single most pervasive source of injury and lost workdays in American production – musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), otherwise known as “sprains and strains.” Its repeal by the Congress and the President sent a clear message to OSHA that any dramatic efforts to enhance regulation or enforcement were unwelcome.
Most recently, OSHA changed how MSDs are reported. It is no longer required that they be reported separately. This will affect how the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports its annual survey of occupational injuries and illnesses. “Not having this information readily available is clearly beneficial to corporate business,” says Schneider. “Not only are these injuries extremely difficult to track, they can be easily misinterpreted.”
“OSHA’s main mission is to insure the health and safety of America’s workers,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer Armand E. Sabitoni who, also, is Labor Co-Chairman of the LHSFNA. “Dismantling the law by watering down regulation and creating a voluntary approach to enforcement was a somewhat convoluted approach, as I see it. However, it is always helpful for organizations to create alliances to improve performance. I hope that Mr. Snare will call on long-time labor-management partnerships like the LHSFNA for new ideas on how to improve the effectiveness of the agency.”