Dr. David Michaels
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
OSHA Employees All-Hands Meeting
1:30 p.m. Monday, February 4, 2013
Welcome everyone - to those of you here in the auditorium and to those participating through the web. Thank you for joining me.
As we enter a new year here at OSHA, I am glad to take this opportunity to recognize some of our successes over the last year, and to discuss our future directions for 2013.
After my remarks, we'll open things up to the audience so that you will have a chance to ask questions.
And I'd like to recognize my colleagues onstage who also make our work possible:
- Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab
- Deputy Assistant Secretary Rich Fairfax
- and my Chief of Staff, Debbie Berkowitz
This past December marked my third anniversary of becoming Assistant Secretary of OSHA. I am proud to lead this organization because we make a huge difference in American workplaces. Quite simply, we save lives.
We are dedicated to protecting the safety and health of this nation's workers and together we've made significant accomplishments over the past several years:
- We've launched the new Severe Violator Enforcement Program to target the worst of the worst violators.
- We've issued a record number of significant and egregious enforcement cases-including the largest fine in OSHA history.
- We've issued three major standards.
- We've played an influential role in protecting clean up and recovery workers in national disasters.
- We've conducted unprecedented outreach and education to vulnerable workers-including Latinos, members of the Asian American Pacific Islander community and others with limited English proficiency.
- We've conducted a vigorous compliance assistance program to employers and workers -including two national outreach campaigns.
- We've approved hundreds of new VPP sites and enhanced the integrity of the program.
- We've strengthened the protection of whistleblowers.
- And we've launched several new National, Regional and Local Emphasis inspection programs.
We've accomplished all this because of your hard work and your commitment. We recognize what a remarkable job all of you have done. So thank you for working so hard and making a difference in workers' lives. Thank you for your dedication.
Last year, we removed six hundred and eighty five thousand workers from job hazards. We conducted nearly forty one thousand Federal OSHA inspections, and another fifty one thousand with our State plan partners.
We provided vital compliance assistance and outreach. We responded to more than two hundred thousand people who called OSHA's 1-800 number, or phoned the area office, or sent an email asking for help. We welcomed more than two hundred million visitors to OSHA's website for help ? an all-time high. We built new alliances with consulates to reach vulnerable workers. And we conducted thousands of training sessions and meetings to help employers and workers improve safety in the workplace.
We provided free on-site assistance to nearly thirty thousand small and medium-size businesses, to help protect more than 1.4 million workers nationwide.
And after many years of hard work, we issued an important new rule aligning our Hazard Communication standard with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This update to Haz Comm will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace, making it safer for workers to do their jobs.
2012 was also a remarkable year, because as we were hard at work, we watched the empirical evidence continue to accumulate: OSHA inspections prevent injuries, and we do this without hurting employment or employer profitability.
I have been saying this since I joined the agency: We at OSHA don't kill jobs-we stop jobs from killing workers. Three rigorous studies, all recently published in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals, have confirmed the effectiveness of our enforcement activities.
OSHA is doing great, important work, none of which would be possible without you. Whether you conduct inspections or do policy analysis or administrative work, whether you work in a lab or in human resources-each of us has an equal stake in accomplishing OSHA's mission. We are all dedicated to protecting the safety and health of this nation's workers, and together we are saving lives.
We have also had strong support from President Obama and from Secretary Solis. It has been a great honor for me to serve under the leadership of Secretary Solis, and we wish her well as she embarks on the next chapter of her life. I thank her for the solid foundation she put in place and her commitment to Good Jobs For Everyone, and I promise to carry on this important work.
Seth Harris, who has been the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Labor, is now Acting Secretary. He has been a strong champion of worker safety and the work that OSHA has done, and has told us to stay the course.
With their support, we are changing the way people see us, cultivating a reputation as respectful, impartial, sincere, fair, and, most of all, effective. A few weeks ago, we received a letter from the president of a stone fabrication company in upstate New York. She was writing to thank one of our compliance officers, Andy Byrne, for his recent inspection of her facility. "I welcomed the learning experience," she wrote, "and trust it makes us a safer workplace."
It is gratifying to hear an employer reflect on an OSHA inspection as a positive learning experience, particularly when the inspection led to citations. But it's even more gratifying to know that these are not isolated instances of positive feedback.
In December, Peter Wilsey and David Moon, two compliance officers in San Francisco intervened after spotting imminent fall hazards at a construction site not far from the regional office. The company's safety director asked OSHA to come back to the site and help them hold a bilingual safety stand down.
In the middle of his office holiday party, Ohio CSHO Darin Von Lehmden responded to a referral and found workers operating a small back hoe inside a 25-foot-deep unprotected trench. Determined to get all of the workers home safe to their families for the holidays, he demanded that the uncooperative employer immediately remove the workers from harm.
And last April, while inspecting an indoor sports facility, Joe LaRose, a CSHO in Massachusetts discovered conditions so terrible and so hazardous that if left uncorrected, would have resulted in catastrophic failure. Joe brought together the local fire marshal, police, and facility engineers to convince the property owner to cease construction operations on the jobsite and demolish the existing structure, saving many construction workers and students from serious injury or death.
I am hearing stories like this from regional and area offices across the country, and these stories always remind me that OSHA is an agency full of heroes. Heroes like the staff from our national office and the field that have helped us tackle complex cases involving workplace violence, heat and the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders.
Heroes like Buddy Underwood in Florida whose leadership and expertise in crane safety has convinced even seasoned operators, foremen and supervisors to seek out safety training.
Heroes in Idaho who helped grow a single safety fest into a series of annual events that deliver quality training to thousands - events so popular that workers and business owners travel from out of state to attend. And heroes like Joe Padilla in Colorado and Donald Frost in Atlanta - whose distinguished careers were unexpectedly cut short when they passed away, but whose dedication to the mission of OSHA will be missed for many years to come.
OSHA is made up of individuals who are ready to respond when disaster strikes, like Elias Vela, Theresa Salazar, Marsha Lake-Wilson, and Letetica Barnes, who staffed the incident command center after tornados ripped through Texas in April. This is an agency full of people like Lisa Gilpin, Michael Moon, Shannon Huffman, and Todd Underwood, who conducted the painstaking investigation following the tragic explosion at Bartlett Grain in Kansas in 2011, which killed six workers and injured two more.
Two years ago, after an enormous chemical explosion and fire hospitalized four workers at an adhesive manufacturing plant in Massachusetts, our staff initiated an inspection that led to multiple egregious violations, and we entered the company into our Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Since then, the employer has invested nearly twenty million dollars into making the facility safer. Now the company has started talking about the road to VPP status.
These kinds of stories really drive home that we are succeeding on all fronts to protect workers.
CHANGING WORKPLACE CULTURE
We have achieved a great deal thanks to a talented, creative and hardworking staff. But while recognizing these accomplishments, we also have to acknowledge that there is much more work to be done.
As the structure of the American economy evolves, it has become even clearer to us that workers have a vital role to play in ensuring that their workplaces are safe. The growth of the contingent workforce, the number of vulnerable workers in our most dangerous occupations, the increasing transience of workers in occupations where we once saw much more stability - all present challenges that previous administrations did not have to face. We must continually renew our efforts to ensure that workers are empowered to get the information they need about the hazards they face - and workers must have the ability to use the rights they are entitled to under the law without fear of retaliation.
As you all know, one of my main objectives is to educate our country's employers about moving beyond reactive compliance to embrace a culture of safety. Many workplaces have already adopted injury and illness prevention programs, where employers develop a process to find and fix workplace hazards before workers are hurt.
Employers in our terrific VPP and SHARP recognition programs recognize that higher profits are the welcome byproducts of safety management. These employers experience dramatic decreases in workplace injuries, accompanied by a transformed workplace culture that leads to higher productivity and quality, reduced turnover, reduced costs, and greater employee satisfaction. Now it's time to take this message from the best to the rest.
Our injury and illness prevention program initiative remains my number one priority-for these programs are critical to driving injury, illness, and fatality rates down.
In addition to encouraging employers to adopt safety and health management systems, we must also continue to address the problem of those systems that undermine a workplace culture of safety. For example, incentive programs based on injury rates or reports can discourage workers from reporting injuries. We've also seen programs that punish workers for reporting injuries. These programs can constitute unlawful discrimination or result in violations of OSHA's recordkeeping regulations.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
One of the best indicators of our effectiveness as an agency is our ability to respond to emergencies. We never know when a disaster will strike, but we know we must be ready for the next one. I am proud to say that in spite of our limited resources and considerable duties, when disasters arrive, you always rise to the occasion.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, staff from every single region-more than three hundred and sixty in total-responded with tremendous energy to assist and protect the workers engaged in recovery efforts in the storm-battered regions of the Northeast. Some of you even carried on with this work while facing enormous personal hardship - your own homes were severely damaged by the storm. This was tremendously important work because we saw thousands of volunteers and day laborers mobilize to help with response and recovery efforts, but many of these workers did not have the training or basic personal protective equipment to work safely in these hazardous conditions.
Our response to this natural disaster also underlines how much we have learned and grown. As tornados tore through the middle of the country, as historic floods plagued North Dakota, as oil spilled into the Yellowstone River, OSHA responded with boots on the ground to bring life-saving guidance to responders and cleanup crews. We've drawn lessons from these hardships, devising original and effective strategies to provide swift assistance and direct resources to those most in need of our help.
PROTECTING VULNERABLE WORKERS
Our nation's workers speak many languages and many have limited English proficiency. We are making sure workers understand the workplace hazards they face and know their rights. We've made it a priority to ensure workers receive training and information in a language and vocabulary they can understand. And we have bilingual safety and health inspectors and staff all over the country.
We recently re-launched OSHA's Spanish-language home page, and we're continuing to translate our publications and webpages into Spanish and other languages.
This past summer marked the second year of our "Water. Rest. Shade." campaign, to prevent heat related illnesses and deaths. We reached hundreds of thousands of workers and employers with bilingual material and training and had more than fifty-six thousand downloads of our new smartphone Heat App.
In 2012, we also launched our Campaign to Prevent Fatal Falls in Construction. Falls continue to be the leading cause of death in construction - they account for roughly one third of all construction fatalities. We've distributed our campaign materials widely and now have translated them into Spanish, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, and Tagalog. We will re-launch the campaign this spring-with signs on buses and billboards, new training guides, and more.
One of the best ways we have for reaching vulnerable and hard-to-reach workers is through our Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. In September, we enlisted the help of seventy-two nonprofit organizations to help train vulnerable workers and small businesses to identify and prevent job hazards. And our Harwood grantees have played a vital role in our outreach effort following Hurricane Sandy's devastation.
STRENGTHENING OUR WHISTLEBLOWER PROGRAM
We rely on workers to speak up when they see a hazard at work. It is not enough for workers to be aware of the hazards they face and ways to protect themselves - they must also know their rights and feel secure enough to exercise those rights without fear of retaliation.
In these last few years, we have also recommitted ourselves to ensuring that all workers have a voice. In FY 2012, we helped to award nearly twenty seven million dollars to whistleblowers across the country.
But sanctioning employers who retaliate against workers, and making workers whole, are not our only goals. We are working hard to prevent retaliation from happening in the first place; we have been sending a message to employers across the country that punishing workers for exercising their rights will simply not be tolerated.
And our efforts are bearing fruit. A few weeks ago, BNSF Railway voluntarily agreed to revise several personnel policies that violated the law and discriminated against workers for reporting injuries.
We play an important-and growing-role across a large range of industries and employers. In July we took on our 22nd whistleblower provision, covering workers in motor vehicle manufacturing, part supplies, and dealerships.
As the number of whistleblower statutes under our jurisdiction continues to expand, we will continue to strengthen our whistleblower protection program
We've also established the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee, bringing in the nation's experts to make recommendations on ways to improve OSHA's administration of whistleblower protections.
HOSPITALS AND HEALTHCARE
In hospitals and healthcare facilities, workers are hurt at rates even higher than in construction and manufacturing, and in some cases, at more than double the average for all private industry. Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants have an incidence rate of musculoskeletal injuries more than six times the average for all industries.
We must address this alarmingly high rate of worker injuries and illnesses by helping hospitals and nursing homes recognize the close link between patient safety and worker safety. We know that managing for worker safety will protect patients, too. The solutions to prevent the widespread injuries from patient handling are at hand-and we applaud those employers that have implemented safe patient handling programs.
Last year we launched a new National Emphasis Program for Nursing and Residential Care Facilities. And we are developing guidance products through a new partnership forged with the government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Partnership for Patients. This is a cooperative program created and funded under the Affordable Care Act's CMS Hospital Engagement Network.
OIL AND GAS DRILLING
And we are working closely with industries like the oil and gas sector to protect workers as we move toward energy independence.
OSHA and the industry co-sponsored a voluntary safety stand-down in Oklahoma to promote safe work at oil and gas exploration and production sites throughout the state. The event was so successful that we planned additional safety stand downs in Texas, Montana, and North Dakota.
Last summer, NIOSH notified us that their field studies had identified dangerously high airborne silica exposures for workers in some fracking operations. Within one week, we held a teleconference with more than one hundred industry leaders, and quickly developed a joint hazard alert.
REDUCING EXPOSURES TO HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS
Even with the progress we have made in Hazard Communication, it is no secret that many of our chemical standards are dangerously out-of-date. We have no Permissible Exposure Limit for most of the thousands of chemicals used in American workplaces, and the vast majority of existing PELS date from the 1960s or earlier.
As the GAO recently reported, the current complexity of the rulemaking process makes it prohibitively difficult to issue new standards in a reasonable amount of time. One of our challenges is to develop news ways to approach these issues, both from the enforcement and standard setting perspectives.
PROTECTING TEMPORARY AND CONTINGENT WORKERS
But we also know that standards are only effective when they are followed every day, at every work site, for every worker. We at OSHA recognize that temporary and contingent workers must be protected. Employers must provide these workers with a safe workplace.
Employer indifference to the working conditions of many contingent workers is simply unacceptable. While some employers may believe they are not responsible for temporary workers, OSHA requires that employers ensure the health and safety of all workers under their supervision and control.
We need to make it clear to supervisors, staffing and temp agencies, and other employers that even if workers are temporary, they are entitled to the same safety and health rights and should be treated no differently from other workers. OSHA is working with Wage and Hour -our sister agency-on protecting these workers. We have begun reaching out to temporary workers through day labor and construction groups, and as we move forward we must amplify our efforts to ensure that temporary workers are getting the training and information they need to be safe at work.
BUILDING A 21ST CENTURY WORKER PROTECTION AGENCY
Just as we are working to change the American workplace, we are also looking inward for ways to change and better ourselves.
I know that you - our staff - are our greatest strength, and it is your commitment, experience, collaboration and creativity that make the difference between getting results and just doing a job. One of my goals for this agency is to make more opportunities for us to learn from each other, making the OSHA organization flatter and less hierarchical, and opening up communication across regions and directorates.
I appreciate all the comments I receive in my public mailbox, and I am eager to continue hearing your thoughts. We will be putting up a "Tell the Assistant Secretary" drop box on our Intranet site where you can post your thoughts and comments - either with your name or anonymously. Of course, you can continue to email me at PublicMichaelsDavid@dol.gov. I won't be able to respond to every comment, but I do promise to read and consider everything that is sent in.
Diversity is among our most important resources at OSHA. The more diverse we become, the more we reflect the populations we serve, and the more innovative our approaches will be. We are embarking on a multi-year plan to ensure diversity inclusion in all aspects of OSHA's business operations including recruitment, placement, promotion, development, and strategic and succession planning.
As we move forward, we will be making increased use of our data to target high hazard workplaces and evaluate the effectiveness of our various strategies and tools. The more complete and consistent we keep our data, the more useful it becomes for learning about hazards and protecting workers. For these reasons, I particularly appreciate everyone's patience as we debug the new OSHA Information System (OIS) that has replaced the outdated IMIS system.
Another resource we have is OSHApedia, which functions simultaneously as an encyclopedia and a forum for questions and comments. I encourage each of you to take some time to explore this tool, learn about some of the work your colleagues are engaged in, and help us build this resource by adding content in your area of expertise.
And of course, one of OSHA's most important resources is our senior staff, who I'd like to recognize here in the audience:
- Kim Locey, director of Administrative Programs,
- Tom Galassi, director of our Enforcement Program,
- Jim Maddux, director of Construction,
- Mandy Edens, our new director of Technical Support and Emergency Management,
- Beth Slavet, head of our new Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs,
- and Dorothy Dougherty, director of Standards and Guidance.
Thanks also to Hank Payne out in Arlington, Illinois, our director of Training and Education, and to Diana Cortez, who has been acting here at our National Office in our Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis for the last few months. And thanks to Doug Kalinowski, our new director for Cooperative and State Programs, who isn't here in the auditorium today but who we are very glad to have on board.
And I want to recognize and thank our Regional Administrators-our senior staff in the field. Thank you to Marthe Kent in Region 1, Bob Kulick in Region 2, Mary Ann Garrahan in Region 3, Nick Walters in Region 5, John Hermanson in Region 6, Chuck Adkins in Region 7, Greg Baxter in Region 8, Ken Atha in Region 9 and Dean Ikeda in Region 10. Last week, Cindy Coe, our esteemed Regional Administrator from Region 4 retired from the agency after many decades of service. She will be sorely missed and we wish her luck in her new endeavors. We welcome Terri Harrison as the Acting Administrator in Region 4.
I also want to thank our Deputy Regional Administrators - and our Area Directors - for their hard work, their leadership, and for their unwavering commitment to worker safety and health. They have been working tirelessly with you to make sure workers are protected.
As we move forward in 2013, let's work together to continue our vigorous enforcement of employers who refuse to follow the law, and let's continue to use the Severe Violator Enforcement Program to pursue the worst of the worst offenders. Let's also continue to recognize the best of the best employers through VPP and SHARP, and to offer compliance assistance to small businesses in need of our help. And just as Secretary Solis helped us to make inroads with our country's most vulnerable workers-no matter whether they have limited English proficiency or if it's their first day on the job-let's continue our vigorous outreach and education to those who need it most.
Today, I have identified some of the main areas that we will focus on over the coming years. And as we move forward in 2013, I ask for your continued support in putting all of these pieces together. As I said before, you are each a critical component of the OSHA team. I know we are a small agency with a large job -and each of you have worked so hard to make all this possible.
Even as you are stretched to your limits, you never fail to face new challenges with the zest and passion that make this agency great. Each part of what we do - from standard setting, to enforcement to compliance assistance to recognition programs - is important individually. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and only together can we truly fulfill the mission of this agency.
And now, I will be taking your questions. I'd like to begin with some questions I received from the field