Remarks Prepared For
Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH)
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Good morning. It is my pleasure to be addressing you today as the new Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.
I understand this committee is an extraordinary group that serves as a model for all other occupational safety and health advisory groups.
We're pleased to have so many experienced members serving on this committee, including some of you who are participants in VPP. You're all strong advocates for workplace safety and health, and your advice and guidance is greatly appreciated.
I want like to thank Jim Thornton for chairing this committee. I also want to thank Jordan Barab for his strong leadership and instituting a number of reforms in OSHA. I will continue and pick up the pace in making OSHA an effective force in the workplace.
I understand the committee has been very busy working on a number of projects, and I applaud you for your contributions towards developing resources such as the arch flash and container repair documents, along with addressing traffic lane and safety zone guidance in the longshoring industry.
I'm very interested in hearing more about the great work of this committee, and especially discussing how we can improve the way OSHA functions to more effectively prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths.
The Agency will be hosting an "OSHA Listens" public meeting on Feb. 10 here in Washington. I hope you will help promote this important event and participate.
This Administration is returning the Agency to the original intent of the OSH Act. This is a regulatory and enforcement Agency and we're going to act like it.
On October 30, we issued $87.4 million in proposed penalties to BP - the largest in OSHA's history. We took this action when we determined that BP failed to correct potential hazards at its refinery in Texas City - hazards that continued to threaten workers' health and safety four years after safety violations at this worksite resulted in a massive explosion, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others.
BP is just one of several recent, significant enforcement cases where OSHA has cited companies for egregious violations of workplace safety and health standards.
In fact, in the last three months, OSHA has addressed more egregious cases and issued higher fines than in the previous fiscal year. This reflects Labor Secretary Hilda Solis' commitment to refocus OSHA's priorities on writing and enforcing standards to protect workers.
And I want to make it clear that we are a public health regulatory and enforcement Agency. Our authority stems directly from the need to prevent events and exposures that kill and maim American workers.
We'll work closely with NIOSH, our sister agency, as well as with the science and public health communities, to strengthen the scientific basis of our work.
I know that you understand OSHA's position. We're moving toward tougher citations and penalties not simply to punish, but to provide a powerful incentive for employers to respect their workers, integrate protection into business operations, and make prevention a priority.
We need to send the message that even in times of great economic hardship, we will not tolerate cutting corners on safety and health.
OSHA will enforce its standards uniformly, providing a fair and level field for everyone in the industry.
When you last met, Jordan told you about OSHA launching a construction safety sweep in response to a spike in construction fatalities in Texas. OSHA brought inspectors from all across the country to conduct nearly 900 inspections throughout the state, resulting in almost 1,500 citations and fines totaling almost $2 million.
Standards and Guidance
OSHA has accelerated its efforts to develop long-awaited standards addressing hazardous exposure to crystalline silica and beryllium.
In recent months, we have -
- announced new rulemaking on combustible dust
- revised our enforcement policies for fall protection during steel erection
- published a proposed hazard communications safety rule to align OSHA standards with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Hazardous Chemicals
- issued a direct final rule to protect workers from acetylene hazards
In the coming months, OSHA will -
- issue a proposal to update OSHA's rules covering slip, trip and fall hazards and establish requirements for personal fall protection systems.
- continue working on a final rule for confined spaces in construction.
Most important, we are preparing the final rule in the new cranes and derricks rulemaking. We plan to issue this new standard in July 2010.
We also plan on publishing a final rule in September 2010 on revising the existing standards on general working conditions in shipyard employment including lockout/tagout.
OSHA will soon be publishing a guidance document on shipbreaking to help protect workers involved in ship scrapping. OSHA will also be publishing three new longshore QuickCards on first aid, lifesaving facilities and gangway safety in marine cargo handling. I'd like to thank the committee members for their input to ensure that these resources are accurate and relevant to the people working in the industry.
I commend the committee for strongly promoting health and safety in the workplace. OSHA looks forward to working with you as we have so effectively in the past.
I know your concerns about the committee's re-chartering, and I assure you that we intend to move forward on it.
Before I leave you to your important work, I will stay a few moments longer to take one or two questions.