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Henshaw, Scalia Nominations Move Forward in Senate

     CRE Web site reporter Don Fulsom reports on the latest Capitol Hill developments on ergonomics-related matters. This is one in a series of articles on the politically volatile issue of ergonomics in the workplace.

     The Bush administration is expressing pleasure that John Henshaw’s nomination to lead OSHA is headed to the Senate floor, and that confirmation hearings have been set for Eugene Scalia to be Labor Department solicitor.

     Department spokesman Stuart Roy tells CRE the moves represent a "hopeful ... good first step" in the newly Democratic Senate’s relationship with the department on ergonomics and other controversial workplace safety and health issues.

     On Aug. 2, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the nomination of Henshaw, who oversaw health and safety efforts at a St. Louis chemical company. A confirmation hearing for Scalia is set for Sept. 20.

     Union officials have praised Henshaw’s experience and do not oppose his nomination. But organized labor has reservations about Scalia, an outspoken opponent of ergonomics regulations.

     Roy is not as pleased with the unruly demonstrations staged by organized labor at recent department-sponsored public forums on ergonomics. He expressed disappointment "with the antics of the AFL-CIO in attempting to de-legitimize the forums." But he said that, overall, the sessions produced a "good record" for Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to study as she contemplates a major ergonomics decision.

     Mrs. Chao has promised to announce by the end of September whether the department will pursue another ergonomics regulation, or adopt a voluntary policy. In March--with President Bush’s support--Congress killed a Clinton-era ergonomics standard that business had criticized as too unwieldy and too expensive.

     The forums focused on three issues: defining ergonomics injuries, determining whether they are work-related, and developing ways that the government can effectively reduce them.

     Roy says he does not forsee anything that might cause Chao to delay her planned ergonomics policy announcement beyond next month.

     In his testimony before the Senate committee, Henshaw declared that enforcement alone cannot reach the nation’s nearly seven million work sites. He said more must be done to prevent workplace accidents and injuries through partnerships among companies, and through voluntary programs.

     "OSHA must use all the tools in its tool bag," Henshaw told the panel. "The hammer must always be in our bag and used where necessary. But like a good craftsman, we must know how to use all our tools and to pick the right tool for the job."

     On July 18, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) blasted the ergonomics forums as a sham. He was chairing the Employment, Safety and Training subcommittee for the first time since the Democrats took over the Senate. Wellstone argued that science has already established a connection between working conditions and injuries. He maintained the department was "looking into questions that have been asked and answered countless times in the past decade."

     Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) responded that the administration was correct in looking into whether some injuries were caused outside the workplace. "This is absolutely an administrative--not a legislative--matter and should be handled accordingly," said Enzi. "We should not impede, but rather support this process."

     Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) agreed--saying, "The administration was wise in starting out with a clean slate."

By Don Fulsom, former UPI White House reporter.