Charles N. Jeffress
"OSHA: A View of Today
Risk Management Forum
October 12, 1999
- It's been said that nothing is more valuable than a workable idea. I agree. And
we're here today to share ideas that work.
- OSHA has many ideas to improve workplace safety and health in the next century.
They are all geared toward achieving one goal: sending every worker home whole
and healthy every day. That's not a short-term aim. It's a long-term proposition.
And it requires daily diligence and ongoing commitment in the face of competing
priorities for time, energy and resources.
- In striving towards this goal, we've discovered that a broad approach works better
than a narrow one. So when it comes to standard-setting, we will favor
performance standards over specification standards. A specification approach is
inherently limited, narrowly focused and inflexible. It's also insufficient to
address the myriad and ever-changing hazards in the American workplace on the
edge of the 21st Century.
- Performance standards, on the other hand, provide the flexibility to accommodate
change, to incorporate unique situations and to fit the culture of individual
workplaces. For that reason, more and more standards OSHA adopts in the future
will rely on a systems approach. It's impossible to tailor standards to fit every
conceivable hazard. Instead, we must empower employers and employees to
address problems within a practical framework.
- The first and foremost framework is a safety and health program. That's my top
priority performance standard. We know that when worksites take a holistic
approach by establishing a safety and health program, they do a better job of
protecting workers. For sites like most of yours, specific OSHA standards are only
a beginning. You manage risks rather than follow rules.
- And as risk managers, you know the dividends that safety pays. But not everyone
recognizes the value of safety and health programs.
- A systems approach to safety is an idea that works. It's the right thing for us to
tell employers to do. You need to analyze your worksite and find and fix hazards.
You don't need OSHA to direct every step. Our job is to provide the impetus to
get you started and an accountability process to keep you going.
- Once employers see the benefits safety and health programs bring, they become
believers. We must dispel the myth that safety and health programs pose added
burdens and offer no benefits. You know the opposite is true: safety and health
programs add value and subtract costs.
- Even average companies can reduce injuries 20 to 40 percent by establishing
safety and health programs. Several studies have estimated that safety and health
programs save $4 to $6 for every dollar invested. Yet only about 30 percent of
U.S. worksites have established these programs.
- That is of grave concern to me. Ten years ago OSHA set forth guidelines for
safety and health programs. We based our guidelines on the successful programs
adopted by our Voluntary Protection Program sites. A number of you here are
from companies with VPP sites.
- VPP companies are the shining stars in safety. They offer living proof that safety
and health programs protect workers and pay off for employers. Together these
560 sites in 180 industries save $110 million each year because they average 50
percent fewer injuries than their counterparts.
- But we have yet to translate that success from the best companies to the rest of the
companies. Voluntary guidelines have been helpful. But if we want universal
adoption of safety and health programs, we need a rule mandating them. That is
my top priority, and we plan to publish our proposal within the next few months.
It won't be a surprise to any of you.
- But what has been a surprise to me is the level of opposition we've seen. I've
been disappointed that companies that have made a sound business decision to set
up an effective safety and health program don't speak out to support this rule.
- Companies would not be investing their dollars in safety and health programs if
these strategies didn't make sense. Yet those who speak for corporate America
and small business in Washington are saying safety and health programs will be
costly and ineffective. That's nonsense.
- There is a serious disconnect between companies that value safety and health
programs and the people representing you in Washington. I ask you to make a
special effort to make sure that your government affairs staffs in your companies
and your trade association officials know what you're doing. Ask them to ensure
that the business groups to which you pay dues accurately reflect your experience.
- Safety and health programs are good for workers and good for their employers.
That's common sense. And we need to make sure everyone knows it.
- Another issue we face as we approach the new millennium is work-related
musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs. Establishing an ergonomics program standard
has been even more controversial than requiring safety and health programs.
Again, the leaders in industries where hazards are high are addressing overexertion
and repetitive motion injuries at their sites. But only 16 percent of employers
nationwide have developed effective ergonomics programs.
- The science is not really in dispute-it's significant and substantial. The findings
are straightforward: MSDs are linked to work and reducing physical stress on the
job can reduce injuries. In other words, ergonomics programs work.
Organizations representing more than 2 million medical, scientific and safety and
health experts have urged OSHA to move forward with an ergonomics standard.
We intend to do so. We expect to publish our proposal within the next few weeks.
- What these two standards illustrate is the difficulty of taking the most effective
approach when that approach involves professional evaluation and judgment.
Difficult for you, and difficult for us. All of us in OSHA, from standards writers
to compliance officers, have to shift paradigms. We have to conduct a more in-depth evaluation and use more professional judgment. We can't just take air
samples and check expiration dates on fire extinguishers.
- We have to consider an array of approaches. We must assess the effectiveness of
strategies. We've got to encourage employers to adopt progressive systems that
keep safety front and center.
- Creating a safety culture is critical to designing a system that works. In an all-too-
typical culture, the CEO says "The safety of our employees is first and foremost."
Executive management translates that to "Safety of our employees is first, but we
must also maintain production and profits." Middle management says, "Safety is
important but we must meet our production goals." First line supervisors interpret
that as "Keep production up while being as safe as the process will allow." And
employees hear the message as "Production is top priority. Do it safely when
- The challenge is to institutionalize excellence, to foster a safety culture where
everyone accepts responsibility for safety and pursues it on a daily basis.
Safety becomes a value of the organization-not just a commitment of the
CEO-and an integral part of operations.
- As you can tell from our evolving focus on performance standards, OSHA has
changed, and will continue to change. But not everyone has recognized that fact.
It's clear from the debate in Washington that some folks don't believe that OSHA
will be reasonable. They see performance standards as carte blanche for OSHA to
play gotcha at the expense of employers. That's not our intention. But we have
some work to do to prove ourselves.
- We must demonstrate that we understand what makes sense, what's feasible and
what's acceptable. We must understand your industries. We must expand our
horizons beyond a simple tally of violations to an assessment of systems. That
will take some retraining and some attitude adjustment. We're working on both!
- In that regard, let me say a word about our new policy on OSHA use of employer
self-audits or third-party audits. This policy was published in the Federal Register
on October 7. You may want to take a look at it under Federal Register notices on
the OSHA website at www.osha.gov.
- First, we will not routinely ask for copies of audits when we walk in the door to
conduct an inspection. We want to make it clear we're not using employer-sponsored audits as a road map to pinpoint violations. At the same time, if we find
a problem, we need to know if an employer was aware of it. At that point, we will
ask to see what information you may have on that specific problem.
- Second, if an employer is addressing a problem identified in an audit that would
result in an OSHA citation, the agency will not consider the violation willful.
And third, employers that conduct self-audits may be eligible for substantial
reductions in penalties. That's because OSHA will consider self-audits that lead to
corrective actions to represent good faith on the employer's behalf.
- Self-audits and audits conducted by Liberty Mutual or private consultants offer a
practical way to step back from the press of everyday business to identify potential
problems. And those who take that step are committed to follow through and fix
hazards. OSHA wants to praise, not punish, those employers. Employers who do
not respond to safety audit priorities, on the other hand, deserve no such credit.
- Another item that will appear in the Federal Register is OSHA's final
recordkeeping rule. We had hoped to publish it sooner so that we could have the
new forms in place in January 2000. We're not going to meet that deadline.
- We want to be sure that everyone has sufficient time to get ready for the new
system. So, it will not go into effect in January 2000 but in January 2001. I think
you will be pleased with the changes we've made. The new rule will offer clearer
definitions of work-relatedness, a better explanation of what constitutes light duty
and a much improved and simpler recordkeeping form.
- We've talked about some of the new rules our agency is developing. But we must
move beyond the notion that OSHA exists solely to set and enforce standards. We
have a role in educating employers and employees. We've heard smaller
businesses tell us they want to do the right thing-as long as it's sensible and not
too hard to figure out. They need help in understanding their responsibilities. We
need to provide that.
- That's why President Clinton has asked for an additional $12 million in OSHA's
budget for the Year 2000 to place full-time occupational safety and health training
and technical assistance staff in every federal OSHA office. OSHA has never had
full-time staff dedicated to teaching employers and employees about safety and
health, except for a small staff at the OSHA Training Institute here in the Chicago
- We need to provide more technical assistance to employers to make a greater
impact, but we cannot do it without an investment by Congress. We think this is a
good investment, that will pay measurable dividends for employers and workers.
- As you can see, OSHA has many ideas for the next millennium. We want to focus
on the big picture rather than little details. We want to set forth frameworks to
empower employers to protect workers. We need to expand our outreach and
- It's been said that some people entertain ideas while others put them to work. It's
clear to us that we need to put these ideas to work in the workplace. Only then can
we send every worker home whole and healthy every day. And as we approach
the 21st Century that's an idea whose time has come.