OSHA Nominee: The Reinventor

OSHA Nominee: The Reinventor

President Clinton's nominee as the next director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Charles Jeffress, enjoyed smooth sailing and lavish, bipartisan praise at his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Jeffress, nominated to head one of the federal government's most controversial agencies perpetually targeted for reform by the GOP, was hailed by Republicans for his work as head of the North Carolina OSHA following the 1991 poultry plant fire in Hamlet.

Jeffress said that with more staff resources and an attitude of cooperation rather than confrontation with businesses, North Carolina over the last four years had 40,000 fewer on-the-job accidents than if the 1992 injury rate had continued.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., a lead sponsor of the Senate OSHA reform bill, complimented Jeffress for his experience and performance in North Carolina. Jeffress was introduced to the panel by House Education and the Workforce Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman Cass Ballenger, R- N.C., a leading critic of OSHA, who backed the nomination. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee Democrats also supported Jeffress.

Jeffress said the greatest progress in reducing workplace injuries came from "educational efforts coupled with our strong enforcement program." Jeffress added, "OSHA's reinvention in North Carolina and at the federal level focuses on accident reduction, not just on enforcing rules. It has paid big dividends in our state, and I am committed to continuing this approach nationally."

But Jeffress said he disagrees with the approach of Republican-sponsored OSHA legislation, including proposals to allow private sector consultants to inspect workplaces. Jeffress, after surveying businesses in North Carolina, said he found them reluctant to pay for inspections or education programs on their own and that they preferred OSHA inspectors to private consultants.

Jeffress said he opposes GOP-backed plans to make some employees liable for breaking workplace rules, saying employers should ultimately be responsible. And Jeffress said enforcement of ergonomics standards, which are strongly opposed by several Republicans, is essential to workplace safety.

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