Deputy Assistant Secretary
For Occupational Safety and Health
Associated General Contractors of America (AGC)
Safety and Health Conference
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
OSHA UPDATE: Building for the 21st Century Workplace
Good morning. Just as most workplaces in America have modernized their practices for the 21st century to be more efficient and productive, OSHA is doing the same.
In today's workplaces we are faced with new procedures and new materials that can present new hazards. We've seen a shocking series of worker deaths from explosions and fires, cave-ins and collapses.
OSHA is responding to these problems by adapting its strategies, all while keeping our sights firmly on Labor Secretary Hilda Solis' vision of "Good Jobs For Everyone."
Dr. David Michaels, OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor, is quick to add a significant footnote to this vision: "The only good jobs are safe jobs."
Dr. Michaels asked me to convey his greetings to you this morning and to thank AGC for its continued commitment to workplace safety.
We appreciate how AGC fosters the right kind of workplace culture with its safety awards programs, including the AGC Construction Safety and Excellence Awards. I like the components of excellence described in this program which recognizes companies for developing and implementing safety programs that are "achieved through management commitment, employee involvement, and program innovation." These are the components OSHA looks for in an effective safety program.
OSHA is pleased to have participated in judging AGC safety awards. As I'll discuss in more detail in a few minutes, effective recognition programs do not only measure success by low rates of recordable injuries and illnesses, but also on leadership, participation and innovation.
In the few minutes we have together today, I'm sure you're eager to know what kind of leadership in worker safety and health OSHA is exhibiting these days, and what you can expect from OSHA in the future.
Unsung Heroes: S&H Professionals
Before we discuss OSHA's activities, however, I want to acknowledge some very important people in this room.
I know that the safety and health professionals attending this conference are doing everything they can to save lives every day on the job. It's unfortunate that you never get enough credit for what you do.
When nothing goes wrong in your workplaces and everyone returns home safe and healthy, how many times has a manager come up to you and said "Good job, nice work, well done"?
Well, Secretary Solis, Dr. Michaels and I want you to know that we know how hard you work to protect your fellow workers and we sincerely appreciate your commitment and your accomplishments -- let's give a hand to the safety officers in the room. You are workplace heroes for safety and health.
We also know that you need OSHA's support, just as we need yours, and we are working every day to back you up with compliance assistance tools that help you help everyone stay safe and healthy on the job.
And we're also using enforcement to back you up by making sure those who refuse to invest in safety and health do not gain a business advantage.
Secretary Solis set the tone for the new Administration's commitment to worker safety and health when she arrived in Washington and declared, "There's a new sheriff in town."
In the first months of last year, OSHA took decisive steps to return to the original intent of the OSH Act and make setting and enforcing workplace standards our central focus.
We realigned priorities within the Agency, eliminated quotas for cooperative programs, moved more personnel into enforcement, and used stimulus funds to hire more inspectors.
We announced a new, targeted Severe Violator Enforcement Program. This new program includes increased OSHA inspections of recalcitrant employers, mandatory follow-up inspections, and inspections of other worksites managed by the same employers.
We have stepped up our inspections and enforcement. In the last nine months, OSHA tripled the number of egregious cases that we issued in all of the previous year.
Most notably, in October 2009, OSHA issued $87.4 million in proposed penalties to BP -- the largest in OSHA's history -- after determining that the company failed to correct potential hazards at its refinery in Texas City four years after safety violations at this worksite resulted in a massive explosion, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others.
OSHA is implementing long-overdue administrative modifications to its penalty calculations, which will have the effect of raising OSHA penalties. The policies will consider various factors, including an employer's overall safety and health program, the number of workers, and previous inspection history. The Agency's policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith will continue.
Still, we want our message to be clear: When OSHA detects problems that are putting workers' lives in peril, we will react.
Last summer we took action when we noted that Texas had the unfortunate distinction of seeing more construction workplace fatalities than any other state. OSHA brought inspectors from across the country and conducted almost 700 inspections throughout Texas. We ended up issuing nearly 1,100 violations resulting in $1.6 million in fines.
And we're proceeding with a recordkeeping National Emphasis Program with a special focus on ensuring that injury incentive or discipline programs do not discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses.
Rapid Response: Protecting Gulf Coast Cleanup Workers
This summer, in response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the BP oil spill along our Gulf Coast, OSHA is devoting considerable resources and attention to the workers who are involved in the cleanup.
We are doing our part in a coordinated, rapid federal response to this historic catastrophe. OSHA, the U.S. Coast Guard, NIOSH, NOAA, NIEHS, EPA, and many other government agencies are working together with BP to ensure that workers are protected from all hazards encountered with their cleanup work.
You can count on seeing much more of this kind of agency collaboration as we strive in this Administration to coordinate our resources, pool our expertise, and speak with one voice. Along the Gulf Coast at this time are 5,600 vessels and more than 40,000 people responding to this crisis, including more than 2,000 Federal employees on site in four states.
Depending on their jobs, the thousands of local workers employed by BP and its contractors participating in the cleanup can face hazards from heat, falls, drowning, fatigue, loud noises and sharp objects, as well as bites from insects, snakes and other wild species native to the Gulf Coast area. Workers may also face exposure to crude oil, oil constituents and byproducts, dispersants, cleaning products and other chemicals being used in the clean-up process.
OSHA is providing vigorous leadership to ensure that employers are protecting workers from all hazards. Our personnel were deployed to the Gulf during the last week of April. Since then OSHA staff has been deployed to all 17 staging areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Secretary Solis, Dr. Michaels and I have traveled to the coast several times to make sure the message is getting out: Workers need to be trained and protected, and OSHA will act when workers are exposed to serious hazards.
State Plan Review
Following the disturbing series of construction worker deaths on the job in Las Vegas, Federal OSHA last year conducted a special evaluation of the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health State Plan, which revealed problems in the state's program.
As a result, OSHA conducted expanded evaluations of all the State Plans' enforcement programs -- to assess whether other State Plans had problems similar to Nevada's and to determine whether they operated as effectively as Federal OSHA to protect workers. We expect to issue all 25 reports later this summer.
In addition, OSHA opened an office in Las Vegas to help assure worker protection in Nevada, to assist the state program, and to address issues identified during its evaluation.
We have also informed the State Plans that we expect them to adopt all National Emphasis Programs. When they hear that OSHA is launching a National Emphasis Program, the American people expect that to be a national program, not a program in only 29 states.
In the last year, we have increased our compliance assistance efforts.
For businesses earnestly trying to comply with the law, OSHA will make sure that they have the information and assistance they need to protect their workers.
Compliance assistance products and programs, such as the On-site Consultation Program, remain a critical tool in OSHA's tool bag. OSHA is investing more in this service to ensure that it is available to help.
However, employers must understand: compliance assistance is a tool that enhances -- not replaces -- standards and enforcement.
We have changed our focus in compliance assistance to target workers and particularly hard-to-reach and immigrant workers who suffer much higher injury and illness rates than other workers. To this end, OSHA held a highly successful conference for Latino workers last April in Houston. Over 1,000 workers, community- and faith-based organizations, OSHA staff, labor unions and businesses attended the conference, seeking to develop strategies for reaching Latino workers.
We believe that worker training and education must be a critical component in preventing injuries and illnesses on the job.
A few weeks ago OSHA announced it is soliciting applications for more than $10 million in new Susan Harwood Training Grants. These grants will provide workers and employers with the tools they need to create training programs to ensure safe workplaces. The grants are available to nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations.
Cooperative Programs and AGC
Under this Administration, OSHA continues to support our cooperative programs -- SHARP, VPP, Strategic Partnerships and Alliances.
Over the years OSHA has found that regional Strategic Partnerships with AGC chapters have produced successful outcomes. We are grateful for AGC's participation and OSHA will continue to support our cooperative programs.
All budgets are limited, however, and I know you can understand when we say that OSHA needs to put its focus and its resources where they are most urgently needed.
As long as 5,000 workers every year are killed on the job -- that's about 14 workers a day all year long all across America -- OSHA will be focusing on creating and enforcing standards.
Injury and Illness Prevention Programs
The Secretary's vision of "Good Jobs for Everyone" requires a safe and healthy workplace for all workers. OSHA's regulatory program is intended to further this objective by pursuing common sense rulemaking aimed at improving and modernizing workplace health and safety.
OSHA set an ambitious spring 2010 Regulatory Agenda that includes 24 regulatory projects. In particular, one new, high-priority item exemplifies our efforts to modernize America's workplaces and bring them into the 21st Century.
We know that OSHA does not have, nor will ever have, enough inspectors in every workplace to ensure that all health and safety rules and best practices are followed in every workplace all the time, nor does OSHA have the time or resources to issue a new standard to cover every hazard that workers face. Therefore, we need to find ways to leverage our resources and meet the goals of the OSH Act.
Our goal is not to punish or react, but to require employers to develop safety and health programs to protect their workers. This is the new enforcement strategy announced in the Labor Department's spring Regulatory Agenda. The best companies are already doing this; now it's time for the rest to follow.
This strategy -- Plan, Prevent and Protect -- is echoed in the proposed OSHA standard that would require employers to implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program tailored to their workplaces' hazards.
The proposal, as it currently appears in the Federal Register, applies to general industry. However, leaders in the construction industry with excellent, comprehensive worker protection programs already embrace the principles that this rule proposes, and the rest of this industry would be wise to follow.
Essentially, through this common sense proposal, we will be asking employers to find the safety and health hazards present in their facilities that might injure or kill workers -- and then fix those hazards.
Under this proposal, workers would have a greater voice in the workplace. Workers would participate in developing and implementing the safety and health plan, and have a role in evaluating the plan's effectiveness in achieving compliance.
Based on the level of response at two stakeholder meetings we held in New Jersey and Texas on this proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program rule, we increased the number of meetings we planned. Two meetings were scheduled in Washington, D.C. -- the first was June 29 and the second is planned for July 21. Another meeting has been added for Sacramento, California, on August 3.
In the last century, workplace reform was mostly fragmented and reactionary. Regulations were implemented only after workers died in a building fire or lost limbs in a factory, or we established or adopted individual Permissible Exposure Limits as individual chemical hazards were detected.
This piecemeal approach won't do for 21st century workplaces. We need to think and act in broader, more conceptual terms. This is what the proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program rule is intended to do.
Also on our Regulatory Agenda: the new Cranes and Derricks Standard for the Construction Industry is on track for publication by the end of this month.
The modified OSHA 10-hour and 30-hour courses for Construction, General Industry and Maritime all include a new component focusing on workers' rights and how to file a complaint. This supports the Secretary's goal of ensuring that workers have a voice in the workplace.
After discussions with ACCSH -- our Construction industry advisory committee -- OSHA is reviewing the alternative procedures for residential construction fall protection. We will soon announce that we will be withdrawing the current directive.
After listening to industry, labor and stakeholders, OSHA revised its Steel Erection Directive in April for fall protection questions related to decking and shear studs. Owners and managers are urged to review these revisions and be familiar with OSHA's expectations for protecting workers.
Among the most vulnerable workers in America are those who work in high-risk industries. Because of language barriers, literacy and other limitations, these workers are often hard to reach through traditional communications methods.
These hard-to-reach workers, who are so vulnerable to serious harm, are also the least likely to speak up for their rights. As a result, they are often exploited by unscrupulous employers who callously expose them to health and safety hazards with little or no training or personal protective equipment.
We want to make it clear that OSHA does not discriminate based on national origin. If someone is here and working, they have rights -- and employers must make it clear that they will not retaliate against workers for asking for protective equipment or other safety devices or for raising other safety concerns.
OSHA is reminding employers to comply with requirements that they must present information about workers' rights, safety and health training materials, information and instructions in a language that their workers can understand. Earlier this year we issued a directive to OSHA inspectors to check for this during site visits to be sure that employers are complying.
In particular and most especially: Immigrant Latino workers suffer and die on the job at a rate 50 percent higher than other workers. To put this in painful, human perspective: About 14 Latino workers die on the job every week while doing the most difficult, unhealthful and dangerous jobs in America. This is an intolerable, national disgrace.
To address the problem of protecting these hard-to-reach workers, Secretary Solis convened a National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety in Houston in April 2010.
Nearly a thousand workers, employers, labor leaders, representatives from community- and faith-based organizations, consulates and government gathered for two days to seek new and effective ways to improve workers' knowledge of their workplace rights and their ability to exercise those rights.
I want to thank AGC for supporting the Summit with an exhibit booth, and the AGC members who participated in the workshops.
The Summit sought ways to leverage our resources through increased partnerships and collaborations to reach Latino workers. We showcased effective education materials and programs that can be used by employers, community organizations and others.
Workers came from across the country to relate their fears and their ordeals on the job.
- For example, we met the surviving worker from a June 2009 tragedy in Austin. Juan Mirabel came to the Summit to tell how he warned his employer, to no avail, not to overload a scaffold, not to use it to haul heavy loads. He told us how the scaffold -- uninspected, improperly assembled and overburdened -- collapsed. Juan hung on for his life while three other workers fell to their deaths.
- In December, the Austin Chronicle reported a memorial vigil by the families and friends of Juan's three fellow workers who were not as lucky as he. The vigil was held in front of the completed condominium. A brown paper sign taped to the building's windows invited public comment on the theme, "Safety is everyone's responsibility."
- By the way, OSHA cited all four employers in this tragedy. The penalties totaled more than $150,000.
OSHA is open to your ideas on how we can improve outreach to hard-to-reach workers. If you have a program in your company that has demonstrated success, please share it with AGC and with OSHA.
City Building Inspector Pilot Program
We are continuing the Summit's themes through our regional offices. For example, as the Secretary announced at the Hispanic Summit, OSHA is moving forward with a pilot effort to work with building inspectors in cities across the country to reduce fatal injuries on construction sites -- particularly worker deaths caused by falls, electrocution, caught between and struck by.
Building inspectors have a unique opportunity as part of their normal inspection process to point out to employers the unsafe conditions they observe at construction worksites. Under this program, building inspectors would notify OSHA when they observe unsafe conditions, and OSHA, in turn, would send a federal agency compliance officer to that workplace for a safety inspection.
Through this program we will extend OSHA's eyes and ears where they are needed most to save lives in the construction industry.
New Management at the Directorate of Construction
OSHA has made some leadership changes in our Directorate of Construction. Chief among these, Ben Bare, formerly Area Director in Omaha, is now Deputy Director as well as Acting Director of our Directorate of Construction.
We have posted the job opening for the position of Director for the Directorate of Construction.
In recent months, OSHA has taken time to listen to our stakeholders and to make ourselves more accessible as part of the White House's Open Government Initiative.
- In March, we held a day-long "OSHA Listens" public forum with a broad range of stakeholders speaking up about how OSHA can be more responsive and effective. Thanks to AGC's CEO Stephen Sandherr for participating in the forum and providing AGC's perspective.
- OSHA recently held several Web chats -- to invite comments on the Department's Strategic Plan, to examine the Spring Regulatory Agenda, and to discuss the development of a new rule to protect workers from the hazards of combustible dust.
- As part of our openness policy, we have made available on the Web more worker fatality, injury and illness data.
Our hope is that, through more open government, stakeholders will feel more informed, involved and engaged as OSHA confronts the safety and health challenges that confront us in thousands of workplaces all across our country.
We must not think of the Gulf Coast oil rig explosion, the Big Branch Mine tragedy, the Tesoro refinery fire in Washington state, or the string of hazards that OSHA recently has uncovered at U.S. Postal Service facilities across the country -- as isolated incidents or random events.
Collectively, these are worker safety issues and they point to a disturbing pattern of deadly neglect that our Nation has tolerated for too long as simply "the cost of doing business."
Well, today we say "that price is too high" -- but OSHA cannot reverse this deadly trend alone. It is everyone's job, and there are things that everyone can do to make a difference and save lives...
- You can speak up at stakeholder meetings -- and bring your employers with you.
- You can participate when OSHA holds Web chats and send in your thoughts when we issue a Request For Information.
- When Congress proposes legislation that you like -- or do not like -- do not be complacent. Speak up, write a letter, send a message and be heard. Make your experience and your expertise count not only in your workplace but in Washington, D.C.
- Get involved in the rulemaking process. It is important to tell OSHA when you support a proposed rule, so that the naysayers will not be the only voices heard. It is also important to tell OSHA when you know how we can do a better job -- so we can get things right.
- Most of all, let us continue to promote prevention through Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, Process Safety Management, training and education, and free services provided in every State through the On-site Consultation Program.
Americans do not want to wake up to any more trench cave-ins, scaffold collapses, amputations or electrocutions. We do not need more refinery fires or mine explosions. We want a change in the health and safety culture of workplaces.
But change, if it is going to come, has to come from all of us, working together, moving forward to support reform. We owe it to the fallen workers who cannot be with us today because they died on the job or are too weakened from a work-related illness. We owe it to their families, we owe it to the men and women working today all across the Nation, and we owe it to future generations of workers.