Charles N. Jeffress
The Conference Board
Environmental, Health and Safety
Officers' Councils I and II
May 14, 1998
- Has Chicken Little re-hatched? Or is the sky really falling?
- Chicken Little, you remember, was bonked by an earthbound acorn and concluded the
sky was falling. He convinced his barnyard buddies that doom was imminent. And they
all headed off to find the king to report the potential collapse of the universe.
- Today some people are looking for a king to report the Year 2000 crisis to.
Unfortunately, there's no central computer guru holding a master fix. Therein lies the
- Year 2000, as most of you know, is the technocrat's shorthand for the failure of computer
systems because of an inability to recognize that the year 2000 follows the year 1999. ( I
have finally found one way that I am smarter than a computer!)
- Writing a few weeks ago in the Wall St. Journal as a self-proclaimed Year 2000 alarmist,
Edward Yardeni, chief economist and managing director of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell,
sounded an international fire alarm.
- He urged preparation for "the possible collapse of essential U.S. government services,
including tax collection, welfare payments, national defense and air traffic control."
Obviously he fears the failure of civilization as we know it.
- I hope his dire predictions prove as unrealistic as Chicken Little's concerns. But as a
former Boy Scout, I think "Be prepared" is a good motto.
- Mr. Yardeni's primary worry is money -- the profits that could be siphoned off to fix the
problem, the lost productivity when machines fail and minds must take over, and the
costs of responding to a host of other unexpected glitches and unpredictable foul-ups.
- My concern, of course, is worker safety. What happens when the fire alarms don't work -- or
multiple false alarms sound? What happens when the automatic doors don't open or
the valves malfunction? What happens if there's a chemical spill and the MSDS's are
locked in computer limbo?
- These are realistic questions because computers control so many of our safety systems.
And now is the time to find out the answers. As I'm speaking we have 14,317 hours until
the Year 2000 bell tolls.
- I'm sure that most of your corporations are well along in the testing process. Let me just
urge you to be certain that your concerns and minehealth and safetyare addressed.
- This forum offers an excellent opportunity to share your efforts and identify mutual areas of
struggle. That can be a real help as we work through these difficulties together.
- I really appreciate the openness of Phillips Petroleum in alerting others to potential
problems. Business Week reported recently that Phillips experienced a shutdown in a
hydrogen sulfide monitor system when the company ran a Year 2000 test on one of its oil
and gas production platforms. The failure essentially immobilized the platform. And
Phillips has done us all a service by relating this experience. We need to take advantage
of it by searching for similar hidden computer chips in other safety systems. Then test
them NOW while there's still 425 working days to go before the millennial moment of
- Year 2000 is a national issue, but it is also a global one. And it requires worldwide
cooperation to resolve, as do other issues.
- OSHA is interested in working with other nations on a variety of safety and health
concerns. Hazard communication, for example.
- We must assure that our workers understand the hazards posed by the chemicals they
work with. At the same time, we don't want to inhibit trade by throwing up unnecessary
barriers. So we need to harmonize our efforts with those of other nations.
- The concept is simple: eliminate or reduce differences in regulatory approaches to
facilitate tradeand preserve worker protections. Unfortunately, the reality is much more
complex. And the process takes a long time.
- We've been working with other nations for several years to develop harmonized criteria
for defining hazards, as well as harmonizing labels and material safety data sheets.
Hazard classification criteria in individual national systems are often similar. But they
diverge enough to create a patchwork of conflicting lawswithin our own country as well
as abroad. Thus the same chemical may need different labels and data sheets depending
on where in the world it is being shipped. This is a barrier to tradeparticularly for small
businesses that don't have the resources to deal with the differing requirements.
- At the same time, OSHA's foremost concern is worker protection. The U.S. is a major
importer as well as exporter of chemicals. We want those chemicals we import to be
accompanied by sufficient information to protect workers.
- Achieving harmonization has been difficult. While the goal is laudable, there's a natural
resistance to change and a desire to maintain the status quoeven within industries that
stand to benefit from elimination of trade barriers. Cultural differences, which are not
always obvious, increase the challenge.
- We've been encouraged by some to consider harmonizing permissible exposure limits.
But that may be tough to do. What's an acceptable risk? How should we analyze risks to
set limits? What changes would have to be made in individual statutes to accommodate
international requirements? It's far easier to share information than to come to agreement
- OSHA has also been involved in negotiating and implementing a Mutual Recognition
Agreement with the European Union in the area of electrical safety. This is related to our
Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) program, which recognizes
laboratories to perform testing and certification of products used in the workplace to
ensure they can be used safely. The agreement is going to be signed by President Clinton
and the EU on May 18 at an economic summit in London. European labs interested in
U.S. recognition can then submit their applications. They will still have to meet the
requirements of OSHA's current laboratory recognition program.
- Interestingly, OSHA considered the issue of foreign labs applying for recognition long
before the advent of the upcoming agreement. Our regulation allows them to be
recognized as long as their own country provides for similar recognition for American
labs. Canadian labs have been recognized under this reciprocity provision.
- We are also planning a tripartite occupational safety and health conference with the
European Union in mid-October in Luxembourg. We're expecting about 100 delegates
from government, industry, labor and academia. Our goals are to develop a global
computer network to make safety and health information available; to share information
on risk assessment practices; to discuss regulations on silica and silicates including
asbestos and guidelines for workplace safety and health programs; and to share best
practices for compliance and enforcement.
- OSHA is committed to leading the world in occupational safety and health. We've made
significant progress here in the U.S. Since the agency was created 27 years ago,
workplace fatalities have been cut in half. Occupational injury and illness rates have been
declining for the past five years, dropping in 1996 to the lowest level since the Bureau of
Labor Statistics began collecting this information.
- But we need to press on. When nearly 50 American workers are injured every minute
during a 40-hour workweek and almost 17 die each day, we know we need to do even
better. We have developed a strategy for boosting our performancea five-year strategic
plan. That is the blueprint I have pledged to follow as Assistant Secretary of Labor.
- For the first time our plan focuses right where your safety and health programs
dodirectly on the bottom line -- preventing injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace.
Counting activities becomes a secondary, not a primary, measure. Yes, we'll still take
note of how many inspections we do, how many consultations employers receive and how
many standards we issue.
- And we will still emphasize inspections, with significant penalties for major violations.
But we will evaluate our progress by the same measuring stick employers and employees
use -- injuries and illnesses. Because we want to see tangible results.
- And the results that matter are fewer injuries and illnesses in the workplace. To be exact,
we've set a goal of helping employers in 100,000 workplaces to reduce their injury and
illness rates by 20 percent over the next five years. We're also striving for a 15-percent
reduction in injuries and illnesses among five high hazard industriesfood processing,
nursing homes, shipyards, logging and construction. And we're seeking a 15-percent
reduction in three specific injuries and illnessessilicosis, amputations and lead
- One of the ways we had hoped to achieve our overall goal is through our new
Cooperative Compliance Program, or CCP for short. CCP would offer a reduced chance
of inspection to employers with high injury and illness rates in exchange for establishing
or improving a safety and health program for workers.
- Unfortunately, that program is currently on hold as the result of a judicial stay. The
challenge to CCP brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce probably will not be
resolved until early next year. So, we've moved to plan B.
- A month ago, we launched our interim inspection targeting system. We've begun
comprehensive inspections at more than 300 workplaces across the country under this
- The initial inspection pool includes about 3,300 companies in 99 industries with lost
workday injury and illness rates higher than average for their specific industry.
- So, for the moment, OSHA is headed back to the future. We now have a ground-breaking,
old-fashioned inspection program in place. It's a step forward and a step back
at the same time.
- We're moving forward, because we have worksite-specific data gathered from 80,000
employers who sent us their injury and illness data last year. That helps us pinpoint
individual employers that need our help. But we've been forced to take a step back on the
promise of partnership and the opportunity to multiply our impact that CCP offered.
- We hoped to reach 12,000+ employers through CCP. And, in fact, more than 10,000
signed up to partner with us. The interim plan will limit us to the 3,300 workplaces we
can inspect. But let me reassure you, despite this setback, we haven't given up on CCP.
We expect to be vindicated in court.
- As all of you know, safety and health programs truly represent the difference between low
injury and illness rates and high rates. Safety and health programs more than pay for
themselves through lower workers' compensation, medical, disability and rehabilitation
costs. They also cut hidden costs such as legal expenses and overtime as well as worker
- Preventing worker injuries and illnesses also enhances employee morale and reduces
absenteeism and unnecessary downtime. Safety and health is clearly a plus for the bottom
line. Some studies estimate that employers can save $4 to $6 in costs for every $1 they
spend on workplace safety and health. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but there are
still some in the business community who need convincing.
- That's why in everything OSHA does, we will be emphasizing safety and health
programs. We want to see a permanent culture change among all companies in the U.S.,
not just the multi-nationals, so that safety and health programs become part and parcel of
the work environment. Our goal is to encourage 50 percent of the employers we visit for
inspections, and states see for consultations, to implement or improve their safety and
- On the regulatory front, we are developing a safety and health program proposal. That is
one of my top priorities. Before I leave office, I want an effective safety and health
program to become a fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country.
- Our safety and health program proposal will incorporate five key elements: management
leadership; employee participation; hazard assessment; hazard prevention and control;
and information and training. And it will be flexible.
- We want it to accommodate the extensive programs that your companies have as well as
the Mom and Pop shop on Main Street. We hope to have our proposal out for comment
later this year.
- As you know, we're also looking at ergonomics. Musculoskeletal disorders declined
slightly from 1995 to 1996. But they continue to represent a serious workplace problem,
costing our economy billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs.
- I believe we can develop an OSHA standard to address work-related MSDs that is based
on sound ergonomic principles and focused on serious problems for which effective
solutions are known. We can reduce pain and disability in the workplace.
- We're planning a focused standard under the umbrella of general industry. And in this
first phase, we're going to draw the lines narrowly, limiting coverage to those operations,
jobs and tasks where there are high rates of work-related MSDs. We will also zero in on
situations where successful solutions have been identified.
- We held a series of stakeholder meetings here in Washington in early February to share
our preliminary thinking with business, labor and those in the safety and health field.
Some of you may have been involved. Notes from those meetings have been posted on
our ergonomics web page. Our next step is to complete our draft regulatory text and
share that with stakeholders next month.
- Our aim in this effort is to give employers the tools to solve the ergonomic problems they
face. We don't need a prescriptive standard, but a descriptive one. We'll be offering
employers a flexible framework, not a fixed formula.
- I can tell you at this point that we expect the ergonomics proposal to include a few basic
elements: management commitment and employee participation, training, job hazard
analysis, hazard prevention and control, medical management and program evaluation.
And I can also assure you that employers will have a lot of latitude in determining what is
appropriate for each element in line with the specific situation in their workplaces.
- Safety and health in the workplace is not merely the job of a federal agency and its state
counterparts. That would be impossible. Safety and health calls for leadership from
environmental safety and health officers like yourselves. And within a company it calls
for whole-hearted participation from everyonefrom the stock clerk to the CEO. Injury
and illness prevention is not just a program. Like any other quality management system,
it must become a way of life. If it is not a cornerstone of corporate culture, it will surely
become a stumbling block.
- OSHA intends to foster the commitment to quality that results in fewer workplace
injuries, illnesses and fatalities. And we will not be deterred by setbacks or stumbling
blocks. As Henry Ford once said, "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you
take your eyes off the goal."
- We have no intention of taking our eyes off the goal. We intend to meet the challenges of
the next millennium by viewing them as opportunities rather than obstacles. And we look
forward to working with you as partners in achieving our mission and yourssending
every worker home whole and healthy at the end of every day.