Remarks Prepared For Delivery By
Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
SBA Office of Advocacy
Small Business Regulatory Roundtable
On Occupational Safety and Health Issues
Friday, January 22, 2010
OSHA Leadership Update
Thanks to Bruce Lundegren [SBA Office of Advocacy Assistant Chief Counsel] for inviting me to speak with you.
I arrived at OSHA - finally - a little more than a month ago to continue the good work that Jordan Barab began under the direction of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.
Secretary Solis has spoken with passion and enthusiasm about ensuring good jobs for every American. On this goal, I know we all here in this room agree.
I think we agree that the more than 5,000 preventable worker deaths recorded in our Nation every year are expensive, disruptive, wasteful, and completely unnecessary. Also preventable are the thousands more who die from occupational disease.
If we can begin every discussion on worker safety and health with this indisputable truth, then we should be able to productively address workplace problems together.
Under this Administration, OSHA is returning to the original intent of the OSH Act. We're a regulatory and enforcement agency and we're going to act like it. We're also 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're moving from reaction to prevention, beefing up enforcement, and moving the Regulatory Agenda forward.
On the most personal level, the condolence letters I sign every day remind me of OSHA's obligation to ensure that employers obey the law and put employee protection ahead of production or profit.
When we talk about small business priorities, the question of allocating assets and resources is always central. It's no different in OSHA. We're in the business of protecting working people, and with our own limited resources we are, naturally and necessarily, focusing on writing and enforcing standards.
As you're aware, we are now focused on re-energizing proposed standards that have been stuck in the pipeline for years - silica, beryllium, cranes and derricks, a globally harmonized system for chemical labeling, and a standard for confined spaces in construction, electrical power generation in construction, and new initiatives such as managing hazardous, combustible dust and ensuring compliance with CDC infectious disease guidelines.
We also need to move forward on a number of other, more difficult issues, including work-related musculoskeletal disorders, Safety and Health Management Systems, and Permissible Exposure Limits. We have not yet decided how best to move forward on these issues - through some kind of regulatory activity, Congressional action, or some other means - to assure worker protection.
But what we do know is that we won't be able to progress on these important issues without your assistance and input. So, here is what OSHA can do for small business: As we move forward on these difficult standards and enforcement priorities and possible legislative initiatives, we offer you our partnership in return for your cooperation, assistance, and constructive comments and criticism.
By "constructive comments and criticism" I mean this: When we make a proposal, we'd like to hear from companies that have tested and embraced successful practices, and companies that can tell us with authority what works, what doesn't work, and what makes sense.
Realistically, OSHA is not going to propose any standard that isn't backed by strong science; nor will we require practices that haven't been adopted already by hundreds or even thousands of companies that take pride in going above and beyond any conceivable OSHA standard.
If you'll step forward and support this approach, you'll see that you have a partner in this Agency, not an enemy.
But let me be perfectly clear. We are not demanding, or even asking for your agreement on every one of our initiatives before we talk to you. We understand that some of you may oppose some of our initiatives. What I'm asking for is an honest dialogue about what really works and what doesn't work - not reflexive ideological opposition to every new regulatory or enforcement initiative that we make.
Next, let me say a word or two about "compliance assistance." Training for workers and for OSHA inspectors, fact sheets, guidance documents, worker training grants - these are all good, all very helpful, and all available.
I want you to know that I am committed to finding ways to get OSHA's abundant compliance assistance resources into the hands of more small business owners and workers. I want to be sure that they have all the tools they need to effectively practice prevention and keep everyone safe and healthy on the job.
Last year, nearly 32,000 employers took advantage of one of our most popular compliance assistance products, the On-site Consultation Service, and 97 percent of these were small businesses that employed fewer than 250 workers. We are committed to improving this program and welcome your suggestions.
There's room for improvement. To do a better job of helping protect immigrant and other hard-to-reach workers, it's vital that we produce understandable and accessible materials. We're working on this and we welcome you ideas and assistance.
Toward this end, we are convening a National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety on April 14 and15, in Houston, Texas.
The conference is co-sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The summit will bring together workers and representatives from employer associations, labor unions, the faith community, community organizations, the medical community, safety and health professionals, educators, government officials, Consulates, the entertainment community and other non-traditional partners.
Construction is the primary industry targeted by the conference, though we will also focus on other high-risk industries that employ large numbers of Latino workers.
There will be much useful information presented at the conference for small businesses that employ Latino workers, including: sessions on free services for small employers and effective educational materials and programs that employers can use to reach Latino workers on workplace health and safety hazards.
The Secretary of Labor will be there to open the conference. I urge you to attend and help us spread the word to the employers you represent.
Because safe jobs are OSHA's priority, OSHA advocates more and better training. As everyone here knows, providing workers and employers with the knowledge they need to ensure safe working conditions is the best way to prevent tragedy. This is why, in September, OSHA awarded nearly $7 million in Susan Harwood Training Grants to 30 recipients, including labor unions and employer associations. The training grants provide two years of support for the recipients' activities on behalf of our Nation's workforce. By early spring we expect to announce the availability of funds for a new round of grants.
As OSHA moves forward on enforcement and standards, we're going to find ways to reach workplaces - and especially small businesses - with improved compliance assistance. To put things in perspective, however, I see compliance assistance as a critical support - and not a replacement - for our enforcement and standards activities.
Meanwhile, OSHA is moving ahead with an aggressive Regulatory Agenda. I'd like to discuss four items on the Agenda that I believe especially affect small business.
First: OSHA is proposing to revise its recordkeeping regulation to restore the column for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD's) on the OSHA 300 Log that employers use to record workplace injuries and illnesses. The proposed rule would require employers to check the MSD column if the case is recordable under the regulation's general requirements and the case meets the definition of an MSD.
It appears from press reports that our announcement of this effort may have confused some observers, including people in this very room. So, let me be clear: This is not a prelude to a broader ergonomic standard. OSHA is simply restoring the musculoskeletal disorders column to the OSHA 300 log - as the recordkeeping standard, issued in 2001, originally intended.
OSHA believes that putting the MSD column back on the log will improve the Nation's occupational injury and illness statistics as well as provide useful information that employers and workers can use to better identify musculoskeletal disorders in their workplaces. MSD's continue to be a major problem for American workers, but at this time, OSHA has no plans for regulatory activity.
Second: OSHA is revising its Hazard Communication Standard to make it consistent with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The new standard will include more specific requirements for hazard classification as well as standardized label components to provide consistent information and definitions for hazardous chemicals. It will also provide a standard approach to conveying information on material safety data sheets with extremely minimal cost to any businesses, small or large. OSHA will hold hearings in March and April 2010.
Third: OSHA is expediting efforts to update existing permissible exposure limits and establish other provisions to protect workers from respirable crystalline silica dust, which has been shown to cause lung disease, silicosis and lung cancer. We are working to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in July 2010.
Fourth: In October 2009, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to protect workers from the hazards of combustible dust fire and explosion. The Agency held stakeholder meetings on the future standard in December. We are now analyzing comments.
Under this new Administration, we have stepped up the volume on enforcement. In the last fiscal year we filed four egregious cases; in the last quarter, we initiated seven.
We also issued the highest fine in OSHA history when we issued $87.4 million in proposed penalties to BP for failing to correct hazards that continue to threaten workers' health and safety. We took this action four years after violations at BP's Texas City refinery killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.
Make no mistake. In addition to sending a message to these companies that we will not tolerate neglect of worker safety and health, we also want the entire industry to hear that OSHA will reactive swiftly and strongly when workers are put at risk.
With more focus on enforcement and standards, OSHA is hiring. The President's FY 2010 budget appropriates $558.6 million - a 10 percent increase over FY 2009 - enabling us to hire additional employees for standards writing, whistleblower investigation and more than 100 new compliance safety and health officers.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is fueling infrastructure projects around the country, such as highway, transit and energy construction. The federal stimulus funds have also, necessarily, prompted a need for more OSHA inspections to ensure everyone is working safely.
In October 2009 we initiated a major Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program to ensure that injuries and illnesses are accurately reported. This NEP will also focus on identifying programs that may discourage workers from reporting.
OSHA needs accurate data to effectively target its inspections and resources, and to measure the impact of OSHA's actions on workplace safety. We will aggressively enforce our recordkeeping requirements and increase our efforts to ensure that employers and workers understand how important accurate data is to workplace safety and health.
We were very concerned about recent studies, congressional hearings and a GAO report that not only documented serious underreporting, but also significant disincentives for workers and employers to report accurately.
Taking a longer view, OSHA will look for ways to streamline the lengthy rulemaking process. Some standards have taken more than a decade to establish, and that's not an acceptable, timely response when we find workers are in danger.
OSHA will also be looking carefully at worker safety and health issues related to green jobs. The new applications and emerging technologies in green jobs promise to be kinder to our environment and transform our economy. However, green jobs are not necessarily safer for American workers. Many of these new jobs pose old occupational hazards.
From the bottom up, we must integrate worker safety and health into green manufacturing, green construction and green energy. Employers who rush into the green economy without paying attention to worker safety and health will blunder into many preventable injuries and deaths.
I'm making it my mission and OSHA's mission to ensure this doesn't happen. Green jobs will not be good jobs unless they are safe jobs.
As we move forward on these and other workplace safety and health challenges, OSHA will need allies in the business community who, instead of instantly rejecting every new OSHA initiative, will work constructively with us and with America's labor unions - because we know that working together is the best way to achieve what we all want: safe workplaces for our Nation's workers.
I invite SBA, its members, and all small business owners to join OSHA in finding ways to eliminate thousands of unnecessary and preventable illness, injuries, and deaths in workplaces all across America.
To begin to effectuate this, OSHA is hosting an OSHA Listens session on February 10 here in Washington, D.C.. I want to hear from our stakeholders about what we should do that will be most effective in reducing workplace injury and illness. We have an open docket; send in your comments. But, if you attend and speak, it would be even better. I have an announcement that offers more details.
In summary, I challenge businesses to think of worker safety and health, and OSHA, not as simply a matter of complying with individual regulations, but as a broader process that should be integrated into your daily business operations with the goal of continuous improvement. When you institute a comprehensive safety and health management system or program into your workplaces, with employer leadership and worker input and participation, you'll find the investment pays off in productive dividends.
Especially for small businesses where every worker is essential, employers can't afford not to make prevention and worker protection a priority.
"Small business" and "worker safety" are not mutually exclusive terms. In fact, I hope you agree with me that the two terms are mutually dependent.
Are there any questions?