"This document was published prior to the publication of OSHA's final rule on Ergonomics
Program (29 CFR 1910.900, November 14, 2000), and therefore does not necessarily
address or reflect the provisions set forth in the final standard."
Politicians kiss babies. Songwriters idolize Mom. And everyone takes a second helping
of Grandma's apple pie. Why?
Because everyone loves babies, Mom and apple pie. They're traditional American icons.
They represent common ground -- shared values, fond memories and positive images.
It always makes more sense to search for common ground than pick a battleground. And
that's why I wanted to come talk with you today. Because I believe we have some
common ground, and I think it's time we found it. I want to build an ongoing, mutually
respectful relationship with you in the food distribution and retail grocery business.
In the process of identifying common ground, we must address difficult issues. We need
to deal with tough topics openly and honestly in good faith. Perhaps we'll find more
common ground there than we think.
So...let's talk about ergonomics. Can we find room for agreement here? You may be
Why is ergonomics such a hot topic? Fitting the job to the worker seems like basic
common sense. But we have a long way to go in meeting that simple objective.
I know that many of you have addressed ergonomics in your warehouses and stores....But
as a country, we still have a ways to go.
Many other nations are ahead of us in establishing standards to reduce work-related
musculoskeletal disorders -- European countries like Germany, Finland and Britain. Latin
American nations like Brazil, Guatemala and Ecuador. African countries like Egypt,
Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. Japan, Australia and New Zealand also have standards.
In fact, just about all industrialized nations, except the U.S. have addressed ergonomics.
There are not many fields of industrial endeavor where we fall behind Guatemala,
Ecuador, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. And we won't be behind long. I expect OSHA
to propose an ergonomics standard next summer.
The good new for us is that the total number of musculoskeletal disorders has declined
slightly over the last couple of years. The bad news is that MSDs still account for about
one-third of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses in the U.S.
And that is costly. In 1996, more than 600,000 American workers experienced injuries
due to overexertion or repetitive motion on the job. Workers' comp for these workers
cost their employers about $20 billion, and indirect costs added billions more. For a
worker who experiences carpal tunnel syndrome, it means an average of 25 days off the
When we look at overall workplace injuries by occupation, some of your employees fall
into the top categories. And MSDs are part of that risk. Did you know that truck drivers
have the highest injury rates? Cashiers rank number nine. And cashiers who operate
scanners are at much higher risk than other cashiers.
Ergonomics is not an exact science. Many of you have made that point, and I agree.
Although we know that repeated motion is a risk factor for MSDs, we can't predict that X
number of repetitions will produce an injury. That's a little like asking how many
cigarettes someone must smoke before they get lung cancer.
We also know that multiple risk factors such as awkward postures and heavy force add to
the risk, increasing the likelihood of injury. The corollary is that reducing these risk
factors leads to fewer work-related MSDs. It doesn't have to be an exact science for you
and me to know some things we can do to prevent ergonomic injuries.
In fact, most work-related MSDs can be prevented by a sound ergonomics program.
Workers avoid pain and disability, and employers save money and increase productivity.
A recent General Accounting Office report analyzing five companies found that
ergonomics programs led to reductions in overall injuries and illnesses as well as in the
number of days that injured employees were out of work. All five worksites cut workers'
compensation costs after establishing ergonomics programs, and they reported improved
worker morale, productivity, and product quality.
Many companies have proven that effective ergonomics programs pay off. For example:
OshKosh B'Gosh redesigned workstations and cut workers' comp costs by
one-third -- down by $2.7 million.
San Francisco General Hospital reduced back injuries among its health care
workers by 94% saving $135,000 per year.
Sara Lee modified line speeds and material handling equipment and procedures,
saving $750,000 in workers' comp costs and reducing workdays lost to carpal
tunnel syndrome from 731 days to 8 days.
Companies in the grocery business have also succeeded. Take Food Markets Northwest
in Seattle. This grocery implemented an ergonomics program in 1987 after three cashiers
experienced MSDs. They modified their checkstands for about $500 each. They moved
the scales, raised the keyboards, made grocery bag wells adjustable and added fatigue
mats. An ergonomist met with cashiers to discuss the changes. The result -- a 43 percent
decline in their workers' comp experience rating. And over the past 10 years they have
had only four tendinitis cases.
We've been saying for some time that OSHA plans to propose a program-based
ergonomics standard, based on sound ergonomic principles and focused on serious
problems for which effective solutions can be devised. We've met with stakeholders a
number of times to discuss this approach.
This week OSHA's ergonomics team will be meeting again with employers, employees,
unions, academics, trade association representatives and others in Kansas City and
Atlanta. Before regulatory language is ever written, we're seeking input on the tough
What should all employers covered by the scope of the standard do to protect their
employees from MSDs?
What action levels should be used to trigger further employer action?
How do employers with effective programs determine when controls are adequate for a
Should OSHA limit the scope of a proposed ergonomics program standard?
If you would like to weigh in on these issues, you'll find a copy of the materials we're
sharing with stakeholders on our website. That's www.osha.gov. Just choose ergonomics.
Of course, there's lengthy process ahead before we actually have an OSHA ergonomics
standard in place. After we draft the proposal, we must clear it with the Department of
Labor, the Office of Management and Budget and conduct a small business review
process. That's why you won't see it in the Federal Register before next summer. Once
it's published, we will take public comments and hold hearings to permit a full public
discussion and develop the best possible standard. I hope you will take part in that
Beyond ergonomics, another issue that is a top priority for me is safety and health
programs. Every business wants to be successful. And success means more than just
making a profit. It means being a good corporate citizen, a caring employer and an
industry innovator. Having a strong occupational safety and health program can
accomplish all three -- and boost your bottom line as well.
Safety and health programs are the critical difference between employers with high injury
rates and those with low rates. In North Carolina, we only found a few more hazards at
sites with high workers' comp claims than at those with low injury rates. It wasn't the
number of hazards that resulted in the higher rate of injuries. It was the lack of attention
to everyday reinforcement of good safety and health practices -- in short, the lack of an
effective safety and health program. That finding made me a believer. And OSHA is
doing everything it can to encourage employers to establish strong safety and health
Before I leave office, I want an effective safety and health program to become a
fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country. That's the only way to
ensure ongoing progress in workplace safety and health. We expect to publish a proposed
safety and health program standard by the end of this year. Again, we welcome your
comments and suggestions.
At the same time, we've looked at other ways to encourage employers to move forward.
Our free consultation program stresses safety and health programs -- and nearly 200
groceries and food distributors took advantage of this program last year.
Our Voluntary Protection Programs showcase firms with outstanding safety and health
programs -- and stellar results. Two food wholesalers participate -- Tropicana in New
Jersey and Aurora New City Packing Company in Illinois. This is an excellent way to get
recognition for excellence in occupational safety and health. I hope some of you will consider
OSHA has also learned -- through its Maine 200 pilot and other experimental programs--that
companies with high injury and illness rates can make significant improvements by establishing safety
and health programs. So we set up a nationwide program to encourage companies that didn't have
outstanding records to begin to systematically address safety and health issues for their workers.
We called that partnership approach the Cooperative Compliance Program, or CCP for
short. Unfortunately, CCP is under a judicial stay at the moment. That means that more
than 500 food distributors who were invited to participate can't choose partnership over
Let me talk about that program a bit -- why we began it and why we plan to reinstitute it
once the court-ordered stay is lifted, and the program is vindicated.
For many years OSHA has been criticized -- by employers, Congress and others -- for its
reliance on industry-wide rather than site-specific data for inspection targeting. We know
we need to zero in not just on high-risk industries but on those specific workplaces where
more workers get hurt.
Further, OSHA's resources are limited. There are about 2,000 inspectors to cover 100
million workers at 6 million sites. That's not new. And that's not going to change.
We need a better way to identify who most needs our help. Not only that, we need a way
to begin a process of improvement that continues long after our initial contact with a
We began by soliciting injury and illness data from 80,000 companies in industries that
have experienced high injury and illness rates. Then we narrowed our focus to about
12,000 sites with the highest rates. Those are the ones we invited to join us in a
partnership to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses at their sites. 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.
CCP is a good program. It extends OSHA's resources. It focuses on those employers
who most need help. It offers employers a partnership option. And it sets up an ongoing
mechanism to address safety and health concerns in participating workplaces. And it is a
far better investment of your tax dollars than sending out OSHA inspectors at random to
look for violations. I am confident we will be able to reinstate it sometime next year.
There may be some issues on which we agree to disagree. But as I said earlier we can
find common ground. This past spring, I signed a partnering charter with the Associated
General Contractors. This charter between AGC and OSHA set forth general principles
of cooperation and a commitment of good faith to work together to improve safety and
health on construction sites. This was after years of contentious relations between OSHA
and the construction industry.
I would like to see OSHA develop a similar relationship of mutual trust and respect with
the National Grocers Association and the Food Distributors International. We can set
aside differences we may have and concentrate on areas of agreement to strengthen safety
and health for those who distribute and sell groceries.
Perhaps we can build on the work you have already begun in developing ergonomics
manuals. Maybe you can contribute your success stories to our regional best practices
conferences. We might join forces to publicize ways to reduce slips and trips.
More than 210,000 grocery store workers experienced work-related injuries or illnesses in
1996. That's the fourth highest total for any industry. Let's get together to bring those
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 promises every worker a safe and
healthful work environment. I think partnership is the best way to deliver on that
The goal is clear -- sending every worker home whole and healthy every day. Who can
argue with that? It's as American as Mom and apple pie. Let's work as partners to find
the practical ways to make it possible.