OSHA Leader Has Lift Trucks on His Mind

There were big happenings at this year's fall meeting of the Industrial Truck Association. First, ITA announced to its members that it has been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to become a standards-developing organization. With safety of its members' customers being one of ITA's top priorities, ITA president Dirk von Holt said this will ensure that industrial truck standards will be disseminated to the widest possible audience for use.

"I assure you that the standards will be developed in a timely fashion and benefit all affected parties," von Holt said.

Von Holt also discussed the evolution of ITA's alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One of the user benefits that comes from that alliance is ready access to safety material. For example, the ITA Daily Check List has been placed on the OSHA Web site. ITA and OSHA have not only linked one another's Web sites, but they've produced a CD indicating the Web site addresses of information currently available from OSHA dealing with industrial trucks (go to www.OSHA.gov).

To dramatize the importance of the partnership ITA established with OSHA, von Holt introduced a special guest speaker at the ITA conference: The head of OSHA himself, John L. Henshaw.

Henshaw has more than 26 years’ experience directing environmental, safety and health programs in the chemical industry. Most recently he served as director of environment, safety and health for Astaris LLC, a joint venture between Solutia and FMC Corporation. During his ITA presentation, Henshaw answered several questions to clarify OSHA's new role with ITA. Here are highlights from that presentation, in Q/A format.

Q: How would you describe OSHA's relationship with corporate America?

Henshaw: People are now calling OSHA in as a partner. We may look good on paper when we inspect, but that's not our job. It's to create a safer workplace. To do that we must engage as many partners as we can.

Q: Is OSHA's alliance initiative tied to the Bush aAdministration?

Henshaw: We created this new alliance process in 2003. We went from 11 to 240 alliances across the nation. These alliances will survive, regardless of any change in the presidential administration. The purpose is to find common ground, which is improved safety and health, and to work together on more effective products and services. These three things will result in the biggest return on the investment made through taxpayer dollars.

Q: Is enforcement OSHA's major role?

Henshaw: We have 2,200 employees in OSHA. If anyone thinks we can put all that responsibility on their shoulders and say OSHA's the only one that's going reduce the bottom line, he’s crazy. By combining our resources with industry's, there'll be more synergy, more activity and more interaction.

Q: What do you expect to accomplish by forming an alliance with the Industrial Truck Association?

Henshaw: Tens of thousands are injured every year by operating powered industrial trucks. In 2003, warehousing and storage operations received the highest number of citations. There were 166 citations and 100 fines. Many workers and employers may not be aware of the risk of working near a lift truck. Many of these individuals are not following procedures we set forth. If they would follow the OSHA consensus standards that ITA participated in we'd reduce the risk of those incidents significantly.

Q: What's the difference between consensus standards and regulation?

Henshaw: There are 208 consensus standards, and they need to be updated periodically so industry doesn't forget about them. There might not be value in some regulations. Take indoor air quality, for example. We've been asked, "why doesn't OSHA write a standard regulating smoking?" The Heart and Lung Association advised us not to. The tobacco industry was all for it. The Heart and Lung Association said there'd be better success regulating it on the local level.

Q: Will we eventually see an ergonomics standard?

Henshaw: Ergonomics is not going away. We don't have a standard, and that's good. But the ergonomics problem has to be solved by businesses across the country. That's what the alliance with the airlines is all about. They're going to find solutions and they'll implement them so we can reduce the number of musculoskeletal disorders in that industry and take the wind out of the sails of the ergo standard. Other industries are doing the same thing, solving their own problems before OSHA comes in and shows them how.

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