Dr. David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
OSHA Staff Speech
February 6, 2012
Welcome everyone! Thank you for joining us either in person or on the Web.
You know, now and then it's good to get together and look at how we're doing.
Today we're going to look over what we accomplished last year and see what kind of shape we're in — and I think you'll be as impressed as I was going through the long list of our successes in 2011. And, after my remarks, I'll answer some of your questions.
First of all — and this is really the most important thing I can tell you — I think you're doing a great job. That's not just my opinion. With me here on the stage are some people who also want to thank you for your excellent work:
– Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab
– Deputy Assistant Secretary Rich Fairfax
– My Chief of Staff, Debbie Berkowitz
We think what you do every day is remarkable. Every one of you is working hard and contributing to OSHA's mission — and we're seeing results!
We're stopping more workers from getting sick and maimed and killed on the job. We're helping more small employers abate hazards. We're teaching more workers about their rights. We're helping more workers get the training they need to stay alive and come home to their families every day.
So, thank you for working so hard to make a difference in workers' lives.
You don't have an easy task. As a worker protection agency, we're always under scrutiny. Some are always looking for ways to criticize us. Not everyone understands that safety is good for business, but I'm telling everyone who'll listen — business leaders, workers, members of Congress — OSHA doesn't kill jobs; OSHA stops jobs from killing workers!
Last year, OSHA proudly celebrated 40 years of service to our country. When OSHA opened its doors in 1971, 38 workers every day were being killed on the job. Today, that number is down to 12 — even though the workforce has nearly doubled. Twelve worker deaths a day is still too many — but clearly America's workplaces are much safer because of you. I encourage all of you to visit our 40th anniversary website, watch the short video, and take pride in how far OSHA and America have come.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN FY 2011
Let's be honest: 2011 was a challenging year, but it was also an incredibly successful year for this agency. The bar was set very high, but the results were terrific.
I'm going to throw out a whole lot of numbers now. I don't expect you to remember them, but they tell the story of one year in the life of this agency. If you listen, you'll be as impressed as I was at how much you've done this year, and you'll wonder, as I did: "When did anyone go home to sleep?!"
To begin with: Enforcement of the law is OSHA's most important tool for encouraging employers to provide safe workplaces. Last year you removed more than 600,000 workers from job hazards — including hazards in trenches and grain bins, chemical exposures, amputations, electrocutions and falls! You shielded more than half a million lives from harm — a heroic achievement by any measure.
In 2011, you conducted more than 40,000 workplace inspections. With our State Plan partners, the combined number of inspections exceeded 90,000! As a result, we were able to continue issuing significant and egregious cases for the most serious violations, and I very much appreciate the hard work you put into these cases.
You also maintained our vital compliance assistance and outreach efforts. The number of people going to our website for help reached an all-time high — nearly 200 million visitors last year.
We also responded to more than 200,000 individuals who called our 1-800 number for help, and we answered an additional 33,000 e-mail requests for assistance.
All year long in our regional and area offices, you conducted outreach sessions and meetings and you answered employers' and workers' questions about OSHA requirements — over all, more than 5,300 outreach activities.
Last year the On-site Consultation Program visited more than 27,000 small businesses covering more than one and a half million workers nationwide.
Behind these numbers are real lives — real people — and millions of them are coming home safe and sound because you are on the job!
Of course, OSHA can't be everywhere at once. We depend on workers to speak up when they see a hazard at work — and last year, to make sure that workers have a voice, we strengthened our whistleblower protection program.
For the first time in many years, we brought together our whistleblower investigators to refocus our efforts and provide new training. We issued a new investigation manual. We launched important pilot programs. We targeted railroad violators. With your help, we completely eliminated our backlog of 11c complaints on appeal!
And just last week, I had a very successful meeting with whistleblower managers from all regions, to develop new policies and procedures that we hope will streamline the investigation process.
We had a very good reason to give the railroad industry special attention.
In the last few years, complaints from rail workers increased faster than any other whistleblower statute we enforce. Since OSHA was authorized in 2007 to pursue cases under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, we've received more than 800 complaints about this industry alone!
Last year, we ordered more than $825,000 in punitive damages against major railroads, whose repeated retaliations had a "chilling effect" on their workers.
We are also making great progress enforcing Section 11(c). Here's an example: Last July, OSHA reached an agreement with a school bus manufacturer based in Georgia. We ordered that employer to pay back wages of more than $170,000 to one employee — plus nearly $6,000 in interest.
Let me tell you what happened: This worker was fired after he asked the employer for training on how to use a truck with a bucket lift to install Christmas wreaths. The worker wanted to do his job safely and responsibly — and for this, they fired him!
I'm pleased to tell you that OSHA's findings and settlements under all the whistleblower statutes we cover, with the help of our partners in the Office of the Solicitor, resulted last year in nearly $15 million awarded to whistleblowers.
And we got off to a strong start this year as well. In January, we ordered AirTran Airways to reinstate a pilot who was fired after reporting numerous mechanical concerns. Can you imagine? This pilot was worried not only for his safety and the safety of his co-workers, but also for the flying public, where a mechanical problem could put many lives in peril.
We're all glad this worker spoke up. And we ordered the company to pay that pilot more than $1 million in back wages, interest and damages. We sent this employer a very strong message.
Because of your hard work, OSHA saw even more progress in 2011: We published a final rule to protect workers in shipyards. We launched National Emphasis Programs to protect workers in facilities using primary metals and chemicals. We released the first-ever guidance for inspecting cases involving workplace violence — with a focus on health care facilities and late night retail establishments. Last year, we issued new hazard alerts on the dangers of working in grain bins, using scissor lifts to film events, and — a new hazard — using hair-smoothing products that contain or may release formaldehyde. We also launched education campaigns to highlight the hazards of workplace noise, distracted driving, and working in extreme heat.
Our heat campaign took a lot of work, but we all know how important it was. Every summer more than 1,500 outdoor workers suffer a serious heat-related illness, and scores die from heat exposure. Nationwide, our compliance assistance specialists and other OSHA staff conducted nearly 700 outreach activities, and distributed more than 180,000 heat hazard materials in English and Spanish.
By our count, your efforts reached more than 2 million workers with the simple, life-saving message: "Water. Rest. Shade." This was a full-court-press! We partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue heat alerts to workers and employers across the country. In August, we introduced OSHA's first smart phone app, which proved amazingly popular. As of the end of last month, this app was downloaded onto more than 11,000 phones. To top it off, we were very pleased when your outstanding effort led our heat campaign to win an international award for excellence.
Another phenomenal success was our Nail Gun safety guide, co-produced with NIOSH. In the first three months of this new publication, it drew more than a quarter of a million views on our website.
Last year, we approved 101 new sites and reapproved 291 sites under the Voluntary Protection Programs. Through VPP and our other cooperative programs, you worked with thousands of employers and their workers.
And last year we awarded almost $11 million in Susan Harwood Training Grants, which will be used to train thousands of workers and will help save many lives
Now all this would be impressive for one year's work, but we did even more! For the first time, every OSHA region responded to some type of emergency. After a tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri, it left a path of debris a mile wide — and OSHA staff responded with boots on the ground to bring life-saving guidance to responders and cleanup crews.
When Minot, North Dakota, was flooded; when oil spilled into the Yellowstone River; and when Hurricane Irene caused flooding up and down the East Coast — you worked whenever and wherever emergency responders needed you. Time and again, you were asked to go well beyond your already demanding jobs, and you stepped up! You met the challenge every time! Thank you for your commitment and thank you for your professionalism!
What else? In 2011, OSHA continued promoting workers' rights among our nation's most vulnerable workers — in low-playing, high-risk jobs, often with very little safety training.
To get our important message to hard-to-reach workers, we translated publications into Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Chinese. We formed new alliances and continued our vital work with Latin American consulates all across this great country.
Last year was also special for employees in our Salt Lake City laboratory: You received some well-deserved recognition when Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis paid you a visit — the first labor Secretary to do this.
Okay, I'll stop. Our list of achievements in 2011 is far longer, but I think the evidence is clear: Against all odds, we made a huge difference! So, please, stand up, right now, wherever you are — here in the auditorium or in offices across the country — and give yourselves a well-earned standing ovation!
Before we look at what's ahead in 2012, I want to take a couple of minutes to tell you something that goes to the heart of what OSHA is all about. From time to time I receive letters and e-mails from employers — including some who've been cited by OSHA. The letters I like best express thanks to our inspectors for being fair and impartial, and treating them with respect.
One employer wrote, "You people are so darned nice."
Another employer e-mailed us to say, "Thank you for making [the inspection] a positive learning experience. I hope all officers approach these inspections in a similar manner."
Only a few employers take the time to write letters like these — but when they do, they remind us that we can, and we should, strive to make a positive impression.
Often we judge our success by statistics — but, occasionally, the time between the abatement of a hazard and the injury prevented is so short, and the relationship is so obvious, that the impact of OSHA enforcement is illuminated.
In Chicago, one of our CSHOs, Tony Nozzi, observed several workers with no fall protection making repairs on the steep roof of a church. Tony stepped in to make sure that these workers put on their harnesses and hooked up their lanyards. It's a good thing, too, because just after Tony left, one of those workers slipped. He slid all the way down the roof, stopping just at the edge — where his lifeline caught him.
Is there any doubt that this worker is alive because of OSHA?
What's remarkable to me is how you perform these heroic acts, day in and day out, without waiting for a phone call or a scheduled inspection. You see a problem and you step in and you save lives!
I could stand here all day and never run out of examples of all the important things you do — and every time I hear one of these stories, I feel so proud to be a part of this agency!
Now, let's look at what's in ahead in 2012.
This year, OSHA's stakeholders will continue to hold OSHA to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism — so let's show them! Let's continue to cultivate a reputation as respectful, impartial, sincere and fair. Even when employers are penalized for violations, we want them to understand that our compliance officers are doing a tough job the right way.
In our enforcement efforts, be conscientious — but don't feel you have to find a serious violation with each inspection. Be thorough, but please be reasonable. Use common sense as you work to save lives.
BUDGET: We all know that budgets are tight as our nation struggles to reduce the deficit. Still, we are confident in the President's continued support of our efforts to protect our single most important resource: America's workers.
Our current budget was recently passed by Congress, and unlike many agencies, we received an increase. So, what will we do with our resources?
We are going to focus on developing and training our compliance officers, and strengthening our Whistleblower Protection Program.
We'll continue to support our outreach efforts, and we'll boost our On-Site Consultation program.
We're also committed to getting you the tools you need. We've bought laptops and docking stations for all our employees here and in the field. I'm pleased to say that this equipment is finally being delivered and put to use! It's about time!
And, as you know, last year we started rolling out the new OSHA Information System that replaces our legacy IMIS. I want to thank the regions that piloted the OIS. We listened to your feedback, made adjustments to the new system, and we've resumed bringing the OIS to the rest of our federal Regions.
PLANS FOR 2012:
How do we follow up last year's accomplishments? — By focusing on what brought us the most success last year. We're on a roll and we're not going to let up!
In the coming year, we'll continue our Heat Campaign. We touched millions of workers across the nation last year, and we hope to reach and educate even more this year.
We will continue to promote Injury and Illness Prevention Programs. We published a White Paper, and we're moving toward a standard — because we believe these programs will help millions of U.S. businesses prevent workplace injuries and illness, reduce costs, and improve overall business operations. This is a message we need to be getting out to all employers across the country.
Last year we implemented our new fall protection directive in residential construction, and you did a tremendous amount of outreach to make this effort successful. This spring we'll partner with NIOSH and others to launch a campaign to do even more to prevent fatal falls in construction.
We also need to turn more attention to health care workers. One in every five workers injured in the private sector is a health care worker, and for some groups of these health care workers the injury rate is actually rising. Health care workers shouldn't have to suffer while caring for others — which is why we're getting ready to launch an NEP for nursing homes. You'll see more focus on the health care sector later this year.
We're also planning an NEP for exposure to isocyanates. Workers in a wide range of occupations are exposed to hazardous levels of these compounds. They show up in electrical work, millwork, truck bed linings, foam packaging, mattresses — in all kinds of products and places, and we'll be going there to make sure workers are protected.
And, after a decade of planning, we're ready to harmonize our HazCom standard with nations around the world. In 1983, that rule gave workers in this country the right to know; now the Globally Harmonized System gives workers the right to understand. You'll begin to notice some updates soon, with the complete phase-in coming in 2016. This will increase worker protection while helping U.S. businesses compete in the world marketplace.
We will also continue to work on other life saving standards such as combustible dust and confined space in construction
Young people, who are inexperienced in the working world, are particularly vulnerable to injuries on the job. I will never forget Wyatt Whitebread and Alex Pacas — the two boys who suffocated in a grain bin in Mt. Carroll, Illinois — and we won't forget the many other young workers who died in similar tragedies. That's why, in 2012, we'll work with the Department's Wage and Hour Division on a campaign for young workers.
Finally, we're going to press ahead with our Severe Violators Enforcement Program. We're not going to let up on those employers who refuse to obey the law!
We have a lot to do this year, and it all happens because of you. We're also very lucky to have a great team of senior staff. If you haven't met these folks yet, I'd like you to meet them now. Here they are in the front row, and I'll ask them to stand up and face you — so you can see them:
- Kim Locey, director of Administrative Programs, and acting director for Information Technology
- Dorothy Dougherty, director of Standards and Guidance
- Tom Galassi, director of Enforcement
- Jim Maddux, director of Construction
- Ken Atha, acting director of Technical Support and Emergency Management — and I want to thank Mary Ann Garrahan who was acting director for much of last year.
- Lee Anne Jillings, acting director for Cooperative and State Programs
- Mandy Edens, acting director of Evaluation and Analysis
Rounding out the team is Hank Payne, director of Training and Education, who is at the OSHA Training Institute in Arlington, Illinois.
And, starting Monday, February 27, Doug Kalinowksi will come aboard to lead our Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs. Doug comes to us with 30 years'experience in Michigan's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. I look forward to the leadership experience he brings to OSHA.
I also want to thank OSHA's Regional Administrators and Area Directors for their dedicated leadership. I depend on you more than you know — and you're doing a great job!
Looking ahead to OSHA's next 40 years and beyond, a critical part of our success will continue to be OSHA's leaders. This agency's management is committed to creating opportunities for the professional staff who will lead OSHA into the future.
My wish for the New Year is that everyone shares my confidence in our future. Considering how much better things are for workers since OSHA began 40 years ago, I'm very optimistic about the next 40 years, and I hope you are too.
We've moved this agency forward. We've built programs and policies to keep our mission in clear view. We're making a difference every day — through prevention and intervention, rulemaking, compliance assistance, enforcement, training and education, and outreach.
2010 and 2011 were great years for OSHA; let's make 2012 even better!