Monday, November 29, 2004

Chemical Safety Board: Out With the Old, In With The New

Dr. Gerald Poje has left the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board after finishing his second 5-year term. Poje, who has served on the Board since its beginning, was the Board's last Democrat. The Board was authorized by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and became operational in January 1998. The Board is a independent agency, but the President appoints its members, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

Poje will be sorely missed by workers safety and environmental activists. His passion for the job and his tireless energy and enthusiasm helped shape the Board from its beginning. His focus on finding the deep social, economic and political root causes of hazards in the chemical industry earned praise from industry, as well as public interest advocates. And he relentlessly advocated adoption of Board recommendations by recipients, particularly the Board's 2002 recommendation that OSHA revise its Process Safety Managment standard to address reactive chemical hazards, and last year's recommendation that the City of New York revise its 90 year old fire code. OSHA has yet to adopt the Board's recommendation, although the City of New York has embarked on adoption of a new fire code.

Meanwhile, the Senate has confirmed Gary Visscher for a full five year Board term. President Bush had given Visscher a one-year recess appointment last year when the Senate failed to act on his nomination. The AFL-CIO and environmental organizations had opposed Visscher's nomination because of his lack of experience in chemical safety issues.

Prior to coming to the Board, Visscher was Deputy Assistant Secretary of the OSHA from November 2001 until August 2004. Prior to that, he was a lobbyist for the American Iron and Steel Institute he also served the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. In the mid 1990's Visscher was a legislative representative to Congressman Cass Ballenger when Ballenger was attempting to "reform" the Occupational Safety and Health Act.