U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/31/2004
Statement of Gary Lee Visscher
Nominations for EPA and Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I am grateful for and honored by the President’s nomination to serve as a member of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, and I appreciate this opportunity to appear before your Committee today.

If confirmed by the Senate, I look forward to serving on the Chemical Safety Board and believe I can help the Board play an effective role in the continued improvement of chemical safety in this country. I believe in the Chemical Safety Board’s mission, which is to prevent chemical accidents and save lives through the thorough investigation of chemical accidents, research into hazards that are related to releases or potential releases, and recommendations and interactions with government agencies, industry and labor, and others to prevent future industrial chemical accidents from occurring.

Since 2001 I have served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the U.S. Department of Labor. As Deputy at OSHA, I have been involved in the full range of occupational safety and health issues that have come before the agency, including issues involving chemical processing and chemical plant safety. I also directly oversee the agency’s offices responsible for standards and guidance documents; compliance assistance, training and cooperative programs; and technical support and analysis. Included in the products and programs from these offices during my tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary have been a several dealing with chemical safety, including most recently an initiative to improve compliance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard on which the Assistant Secretary for OSHA, John Henshaw, testified before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week.

Prior to my current position I served as Vice President for Employee Relations at the American Iron and Steel Institute. A large part of my responsibility at the Institute was working with the member steel companies on safety and health issues in the steel industry.

From 1999 through 2000 I served as one of three Commissioners on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The Review Commission is an independent agency which adjudicates contested OSHA citations and penalties.

Prior to my confirmation by the Senate in May, 1999 to be a Commissioner on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, I worked for 14 ½ years in Congressional staff positions, first as Legislative Director to former U.S. Representative Paul B. Henry (R-Michigan) and subsequently on the staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

As happens to many of us who work in Congressional staff positions, my long term interest and involvement in workplace safety and health was to some extent a result of the involvement and expertise of the Member of Congress on whose staff I began working. Congressman Henry served as the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee with jurisdiction of workplace safety and health issues for several years, from 1987 to the year he died, in 1993. Through helping to prepare him and the other Subcommittee Members for hearings and reviewing the issues that came before the Subcommittee, I gained a level of expertise in many of the technical as well as the legal and policy questions and issues in the safety and health area.

In fact, one of the very first oversight issues I worked on after joining the Committee staff in 1989 was the explosion and fire and subsequent investigation of the Phillips 66 Company’s Houston Chemical Complex facility in Texas in which 23 people died, and which was one of the incidents that helped trigger support for the creation of the Chemical Safety Board in the Clean Air Act Amendments.

But having initially become involved with these issues by way of my Congressional staff duties, I also have found working in occupational safety and health to be challenging as well as rewarding. Certainly, as Assistant Secretary Henshaw often reminds us and the staff at OSHA, “there can be no work more rewarding and no job more fulfilling than helping to protect the lives and well-being of the working men and women who keep our nation strong.” If confirmed by the Senate, I look forward to serving on the Chemical Safety Board in order to continue to contribute to the effort of making workplaces and communities safer.

A major role and function of the Chemical Safety Board is the investigation of chemical releases and incidents in order to identify what happened, and, as much as possible, why it happened, and to recommend steps that might prevent such accidents from happening again. To carry out these functions, one must be not only well-versed in the technical and legal aspects of chemical safety, but also be fair and objective. Each of the jobs and positions I have held in the safety and health area has involved oversight and review of workplace accidents and investigations and responsibility for understanding, evaluating, and analyzing the technical, the legal, and the human issues involved. I believe I have a reputation for being thorough as well as fair minded, and if I am confirmed by the Senate, I will certainly carry those values with me in carrying out my responsibilities as a member of Chemical Safety Board.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this opportunity to testify before you and your consideration of my nomination. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.