WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush is nominating John Henshaw, health and safety director for a St. Louis chemical company, to run the agency that sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards.
The White House announced Henshaw's nomination as assistant labor secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday. The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.
Organized labor supported Henshaw's nomination.
``It's refreshing that they've actually picked someone with a background in the field and some stature,'' said Bill Borwegan, occupational health and safety director for the Service Employees International Union.
The White House said Henshaw is director of environment, safety and health for Astaris LLC of St. Louis, which makes phosphorus chemicals, phosphoric acid and phosphate salt and is a joint venture of FMC and Solutia Inc. An Astaris receptionist said Tuesday that Henshaw was no longer with the company.
Unions and business groups have a particular interest in who leads OSHA because it will have oversight for new policies the Bush administration pursues to reduce work-related injuries. Clinton-era regulations on ergonomics _ adapting working conditions to suit individual employees _ were repealed by Congress in March after a big legislative battle.
Union officials praised Henshaw's health and safety experience but questioned how much authority he will have.
``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. ``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.''
Henshaw will be leading OSHA in a new direction outlined by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who has said the agency's approach will be ``based on cooperation and prevention rather than the antiquated adversarial approach of years past.''
The American Industrial Hygiene Association, in a letter supporting Henshaw's nomination, said he has ``the vision and ability to build coalitions and consensus among diverse groups to effectively promote a health and safety agenda accepted by all.''
But another Labor Department nominee awaiting confirmation could hit a snag now that Democrats control the Senate.
Democrats and organized labor are undecided whether to fight the nomination of Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a Washington labor lawyer, as solicitor.
Outspoken and ideologically conservative, Scalia would be the agency's top lawyer. A confirmation hearing has not been scheduled.
``We're deeply concerned about his nomination and his record,'' Seminario said. ``We're still evaluating and have not come to a final decision.''
Scalia wrote in a 1999 Wall Street Journal column that the then-proposed OSHA ergonomics rule ``relies on doubtful evidence that repeatedly has flunked the courts' `junk science' test.'' As a lawyer, he has represented stalwart opponents of federal ergonomics regulations and has fought efforts at the state level, including California.
Scalia as labor solicitor is ``a pretty scary prospect,'' SEIU's Borwegan said.