June 14, 2001

On Wednesday, it was announced that the President intends to nominate John Lester Henshaw to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

Henshaw is presently the Director of Environment, Safety and Health for Astaris, LLC, in St. Louis, Missouri, and was previously the Director of Environment, Safety and Health for Solutia, Inc. From 1975 to 1995, he was with Monsanto Company in a variety of positions including Corporate Director of Quality and Compliance Assurance and Corporate Stewardship for Environmental Safety and Health and as Corporate Industrial Hygiene Director. Henshaw served for sixteen years in the Air National Guard as a Bio-Environmental Engineer and he is a member of numerous professional organizations. He is a graduate of Appalachian State University and received a Master's degree from the University of Michigan.

The nomination must be confirmed by the Senate. Labor groups support the nomination but question how much authority Henshaw will be given.

"John is a competent and widely respected safety and health professional who's got a lot of experience in the field," said Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO health and safety director, as quoted by the Associated Press. "The question we have, however, is what he actually will be allowed to do to protect worker safety and health given the Bush administration's track record on these issues to date."


OSHA and Tyson Foods, Inc., will join together in a landmark partnership to improve worker safety and health at two of the poultry processor's facilities.

The five-year agreement, signed in Little Rock, Ark., establishes a joint OSHA/Tyson partnership steering committee that will establish milestones designed to reduce the incidence of employee injuries and illnesses at Tyson Foods. The partnership initially covers two Tyson facilities: Clarksville Processing in Clarksville, Ark., and Monett processing in Monett, MO.

"The partnership formed today is an example of public-private cooperation that protects America's workers," said acting OSHA Administrator R. Davis Layne. "We believe the agreement will reduce injuries and illnesses at both of these facilities. And, we're confident that the lessons learned from the partnership will translate into improved worker protections throughout the entire Tyson family."

John B. Miles, OSHA regional administrator in Dallas, is scheduled to attend the signing and said that management commitment and employee involvement will continue to be central elements to the implementation of an effective safety and health program.

Under the agreement, OSHA will work with senior staff, site management and employees to identify actions that will strengthen the Tyson foods safety and health programs. OSHA will also conduct an initial baseline evaluation of each participating site's safety and health program and produce a report listing compliance issues for correction and recommend areas of improvement. Tyson commits to further strengthen its safety and health programs and to abate any OSHA violations that may be identified through the partnership.

"We believe this effort will offer new ways and opportunities for us to work together and focus cooperatively on the thing that's most important to all of the partners -- the health and safety of our team members," said Greg Lee, Tyson Foods chief operating officer.


Elaine L. Chao announced that she would convene three national public forums on the issue of ergonomics safety in the workplace and that she will identify a final course of action on the issue by September.

"We are bringing everyone to the table to get this important issue moving forward and resolved," Chao said. "Defining the best approach for ergonomic injuries is not a simple process and we need everyone's voice heard in the process.

"Guiding principles will provide a vital starting point for evaluating the issue and a point from which we can decide a final course of action."

The forums will be held in Washington DC on July 16, Illinois on July 20, and California on July 24, 2001. Members of the public may speak at a forum or submit written comments. An administrative law judge will run the forums, though the secretary and other senior Department officials will participate in portions of the forums.

Congress passed, and on March 20, 2001 the President signed, a Joint Resolution of Disapproval of OSHA's previous ergonomics standard. At that time, Chao said that her intent was to "listen to all sides on this issue: unions, Congress, business and safety and science professionals."

In subsequent testimony before Congress, Chao identified the following set of principles that the Department of Labor will use as a starting point for creating a new ergonomics approach:

  • Prevention: The approach should place greater emphasis on preventing injuries before they occur.

  • Sound Science: The approach should be based on the best available science and research.

  • Incentive Driven: The approach should focus on cooperation between OSHA and employers.

  • Flexibility: The approach should take account of the varying capabilities and characteristics of different businesses.

  • Feasibility: Future actions must recognize the costs of compliance to small businesses.

  • Clarity: Any approach must include short, simple and common sense instructions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 582,300 musculoskeletal injuries that resulted in employees missing time from work in 1999, the last year for which statistics are available. That was down from 1998 figures, which showed 592,500 such injuries and down from more than 763,000 in 1993.


OSHA issued citations to Ritz-Craft Corporation of Pennsylvania, Inc., Mifflinburg, Pa., for alleged violations of safety and health standards, and proposed $64,500 in penalties. The inspection was initiated on Dec. 6, 2000 when an employee died after the fork lift he was operating tipped over. The company manufactures modular homes.

According to Andrew Hedesh, area director of the Wilkes-Barre OSHA office, five repeat violations, with a proposed penalty of $45,000, were issued along with six serious violations, which carry a penalty of $19,500.

"The serious violations include the lack of a restraint system or seat belt on the fork lift," said Hedesh. "The operator's death may have been prevented if a system had been installed."

The other serious violations issued include: a forklift operator trainee assigned to operate a forklift without supervision; employees required to work under suspended floor sections; restricted egress; and improper storage of compressed gas tanks.

The repeat violations were issued for unguarded machinery; lack of guardrails on catwalks and platforms; failure to develop and utilize lockout procedures for control of hazardous energy; lack of periodic inspections to assure that lockout/tagout procedures are being performed.

Serious violations involve a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard. Repeat violations occur when an employer has been cited previously for a substantially similar condition and the citations have become final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


Surprising even the researchers themselves, a new study from Mayo Clinic found that heavy computer use, even up to seven hours per day, did not increase a person's risk of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

The results of the research, to be published in the June 12 issue of Neurology, indicate that only 10.5 percent of the study participants, all of whom used computers extensively, met clinical criteria for CTS. This incidence is similar to that found in the general population in past studies, according to the authors of Mayo ClinicÆs manuscript.

"We had expected to find a much higher incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome in the heavy computer users in our study because it is a commonly held belief that computer use causes carpal tunnel syndrome," says J. Clarke Stevens, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and lead author of the study. "The other finding was that among our cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, two-thirds of them had very mild carpal tunnel syndrome. Our study results were unexpected," said Dr. Stevens.

This is the first major study to consider the association between the syndrome and computer usage.

As CTS is not the only ergonomics issue related to computer usage, a correct office setup still has great merit, according to Dr. Stevens

"The question arises as to whether ergonomically correct work stations are important," he says. "I think they continue to be very important, because there are a variety of aches and discomfort that can result from using a computer. A majority of the computer users in our study, including those without carpal tunnel syndrome, had experienced neck and upper extremity pain during the two years prior to the study. What we are saying is that at least in our employees studied, computer use did not seem to increase the risk of getting carpal tunnel syndrome."

There are a variety of factors that do contribute to CTS, according to the study authors. "The major risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome are being female and middle-aged," says Dr. Stevens. "There are many other causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, such as wrist trauma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy."

Research suggests that one person in 10 will develop symptoms of CTS over a lifetime. CTS is a compression of the median nerve at the wrist, leading to numbness tingling and pain in the hand. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel at the wrist and into the palm where it sends branches that control feeling to the thumb, index, middle and part of the ring fingers. Symptoms of CTS include tingling, pain or numbness in the hand and fingers.

CTS is treated by wearing a splint at night to reduce waking up or by an injection of cortisone to reduce swelling. If these measures are not successful, carpal tunnel release surgery, which sections the tough transverse carpal ligament and relieves pressure on the median nerve, may be performed.