Remarks Prepared for
Dr. David Michaels
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
OSHA Employees All-Hands Meeting
2:00 p.m. Tuesday, February 11, 2014
This past year OSHA hit an impressive milestone: 43 years of protecting workers. In 1970, there were about 14,000 fatalities on the job, or nearly 38 every day. Today with a workforce almost twice as large, that number has fallen to 12 a day. And, the rate of serious injuries and illnesses dropped from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.4 in 2012 - the lowest rate ever.
So, as we enter a new year here at OSHA, I'd like to recognize some of our successes over the last year and outline our priorities for the year ahead. As you know, we are a small agency with a very big responsibility. And while we may not always have the resources we need, we do have a smart and dedicated staff.
I'd like to tell you some of the amazing things that we have done together -- and I think you will be impressed. It's even more impressive when you consider that 2013 was not an easy year to be a public employee, with sequestration and the government shutdown. And through it all, you never missed a beat. I know that 2014 is going to be a great year.
Of all the things I'm going to say today, know this - you are the most important resource this agency has, and your work matters.
This past year, we removed about 800,000 (781,427) workers from job hazards, conducting nearly 40,000 (39,228) Federal inspections.
Because of sequestration, we took over answering all calls to the 1-800 number and responded to more than 200,000 people. We also took over answering all emails sent in through our website-and last year that was almost 27,000. I know this wasn't easy, but now that we are answering these calls and emails, we're providing better customer service to those who need us most.
Last year we also provided free consultations to nearly 30,000 small and medium-sized businesses to help protect more than 1.4 million workers. We conducted thousands of training sessions and welcomed more than 205 million visitors to OSHA's website ? an all-time high.
We are making a difference throughout the nation.
In February, we ordered the Union Pacific Railroad Company to pay a worker more than $309,000 after he was retaliated against for reporting a co-worker's injury. And we ordered a Washington based trucking company to stop retaliating against workers who refuse to drive trucks while ill or fatigued.
Last April, a federal judge in Tennessee sentenced a former safety manager to 78 months in prison for deliberately falsifying records of workplace injuries. We won a groundbreaking trial in October, when a jury ordered a Florida school and its principal to pay $175,000 to a worker who was unlawfully fired for raising concerns about electrical hazards.
Through the spring and summer, our Dallas staff led the investigation of the tragic explosion in West, Texas where 15 people were killed-including 12 emergency response personnel-and hundreds more were seriously injured.
In June when a building collapsed in downtown Philadelphia killing six and injuring 14, we did a thorough investigation that uncovered the unsafe practices that led to this tragedy-and brought fines of almost $400,000 for the construction company and its contactor. To make sure this will not happen again, we partnered with the Philadelphia Department of License & Inspection to provide training and education on safe demolition techniques-and we will carry this message nationwide.
This past summer in San Diego we joined with the Shipyard Workers Union to train workers on emergency response, confined spaces, respirator use and toxic metals.
In September, we joined with more than 300 employer and labor organizations to hold a safety stand-down at construction sites throughout Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. More than 6,500 workers were trained on preventing falls - the leading cause of deaths in construction.
That same month, a South Dakota manufacturer agreed to pay more than 1.33 million dollars to resolve criminal penalties after a worker was killed - including paying restitution to the worker's widow and the full OSHA fine.
And less than 24 hours after tornadoes tore through Peoria in November, we were on the streets helping people stay safe during the recovery. And throughout the many months of rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we've made sure workers are protected.
We prevailed in the courts again in November, when the owner of a New Hampshire gunpowder plant was sentenced to ten to twenty years in prison following an explosion that killed two workers.
We've also reached new agreements with companies to change their policies, including one with telecommunications giant Verizon to increase electrical safety training and other safeguards for their field technicians.
And, just a few weeks ago in Ohio, during an inspection at a metal and wire facility, we found that a serious natural gas leak had caused carbon monoxide levels to rise to three times the safe level. We immediately evacuated the facility, taking 65 employees out of harm's way. Just imagine what would have happened to all those workers if we hadn't been there.
These are the kinds of great things we do every day. We are changing the way people see us and because of our work, people are going home safe and healthy. We prevent tragedies for today and for tomorrow.
Thanks to our updated Hazcom standard, workers are now being trained to understand chemical labels and safety data sheets. And, in August we proposed a rule to lower worker exposure to crystalline silica, preventing lung disease and silicosis.
We've accomplished all this because of your hard work from the front lines to our front office. And I'd like to thank my colleagues for everything they've done to make our work possible:
- Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab
- Our new career Deputy, Dorothy Dougherty
- Our Senior Policy Advisor, Debbie Berkowitz, and
- Our Chief of Staff, Lucero Ortiz.
We're very lucky to have Tom Perez as our new Secretary of Labor. He is a true champion for worker safety and he brings many years of fighting hard against discrimination. He knows what it's like to be under attack for doing the right thing. He has made it clear that our agenda is his agenda - he will do everything he can do to help us succeed in our life-saving mission.
And with support from the top to the bottom, we have achieved a great deal. And I'm grateful, because there is still much more to be done.
Just take a look at the morning news: most of the stories about workplace fatalities are depressingly similar. A worker has fallen to his death from a roof, suffocated in a trench cave-in, or been crushed to death by a machine that wasn't locked out. The reporter notes that the police have investigated and declared the death "accidental" - meaning not the result of foul play.
But is a workplace death really "accidental" when it's caused by an obvious and well-known hazard? With few exceptions, our investigators find the workers were killed as a result of decisions made by employers not to protect their workers. We need to reframe the nation's conversation around occupational hazards. Workplace deaths are not accidents-they're predictable, preventable tragedies.
I'm asking you to join me in changing the way people think about our work-let's stop calling these events "accidents." When a friend, neighbor or especially a reporter asks if we know what caused a fatality or injury, tell them-this was no accident-this was predictable and preventable.
As you know, one of my main objectives is to educate our country's employers about moving beyond reactive compliance to embrace a culture of prevention. Many workplaces have already adopted injury and illness prevention programs, developing a process to find and fix workplace hazards before workers are hurt.
Employers in our VPP and SHARP recognition programs know that safety is good for business. Now it's time to take this message from the best to the rest.
Our injury and illness prevention program initiative is critical to driving down injury, illness, and fatality rates. We are carrying this message through our outreach, education, and settlement agreements.
Our recordkeeping proposal will also have a big impact. There are so many workers injured each year, and we don't know enough about who and why - this data will help us better target our limited resources. We also believe public disclosure of injury rates will "nudge" many employers to start managing for safety. After all: wouldn't you rather work for, and invest in, a safe company?
We will also continue to focus on protecting day laborers and other vulnerable workers, who are hard to reach and face the greatest risks on the job.
We continue to insist that workers receive training and information in a language and vocabulary they understand. We have bilingual inspectors and staff, and the Spanish web page is a great resource. We're translating our materials into Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Portuguese, and other languages.
We are also creating new alliances across the country to reach vulnerable workers. In 2013 alone, we signed new alliances with consulates from El Salvador, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.
Our Susan Harwood Grants are among our most effective resources for providing hands-on training and education to vulnerable workers and small businesses.
This past summer, our Atlanta area office kicked off the third year of our Heat Campaign with a massive stand down involving hundreds of work sites and thousands of workers. Every region followed with an outreach and education program. The campaign has reached more than 7.5 million people.
Our Fall Prevention Campaign is stronger than ever. This year we are hard at work planning a nation-wide stand-down for June.
We've already held several successful safety stand-downs across oil and gas drilling sites with activities from Pennsylvania to California. We are collaborating with employers, workers, industry groups and other organizations to raise awareness about hazards in this rapidly expanding industry.
The temporary workforce is also growing dramatically, and we've launched a concerted effort to ensure that temps get the protections and training they need.
Let me give you an example. Last June, 31 year-old Michael White was killed by heat stroke three days into his new job collecting garbage in Houston. Michael's death was entirely preventable. He had not been trained, or acclimated to working in the heat, and we cited both the host employer and the temp agency for failing to protect him.
In our outreach and our enforcement, we emphasize this point that host employers and staffing agencies together have a responsibility to protect temporary workers. I am grateful for the hard work put in by OSHA staff across the country to launch this initiative.
As many of you know, vulnerable workers are often the least likely to speak up for their rights. So, it's simply not enough for them to be aware of hazards and ways to protect themselves- they must also have a voice!
With more resources, our Whistleblower Protection Program has become stronger - and staff across the country are making great headway. Just yesterday, we filed a case against AT&T on behalf of 13 workers who were suspended for reporting workplace injuries.
In total, we helped to award more than 24 million dollars to whistleblowers across the country in 2013.We also launched the new online complaint form for workers who have faced retaliation. We are sending a clear message that silencing workers who try to do the right thing is unacceptable.
We're also sending a message that occupational health is just as important as safety. Most of the occupational hazards that make the news are acute exposures - falls, explosions, amputations. But each year in the United States, tens of thousands of workers are made sick or even die from daily exposures to hazardous chemicals. And while many of these chemicals are harmful, only a few are regulated in the workplace, and for most of those, our standards are dangerously out-of-date.
We know that the most efficient and effective way to protect workers from hazardous chemicals is by eliminating or replacing them with safer alternatives. And thanks to our new safer chemicals toolkit, employers are able to visit our webpage for help. We've also posted annotated PEL tables so employers can voluntarily adopt more protective exposure limits.
Recently, President Obama called upon OSHA and other government agencies to ensure that nothing like what occurred in West, Texas ever happens again. Across the country we are coordinating with other agencies, and with state and local partners to improve chemical facility safety and security. And, we are engaging the public in this important conversation by hosting webinars and holding listening sessions from coast to coast.
So, as I mentioned earlier, it really is amazing to think about all the difference that you've made for workers all over the country - and in so many different fields of work.
In December, I began my fifth year serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with you on our many accomplishments over these years.
- Our Severe Violator Enforcement Program has helped us to target the worst of the worst.
- We've expanded our Whistleblower Protection Program, and brought much-needed resources and training to our staff.
- We've issued a record number of significant and egregious enforcement cases-including the largest fine in OSHA's history.
- Our enforcement programs continue to address the most serious hazards and the most dangerous workplaces.
- We initiated programs to protect workers in chemical and metal plants and nursing homes.
- We now reach out to family members during all fatality investigations.
- We've issued three major standards and proposed new rules on silica, recordkeeping, electrical power, and fall prevention in general industry.
- We issued key hazard alerts on issues ranging from nail guns to hair salons to hydraulic fracturing.
- We made unprecedented outreach and education efforts to prevent workers from dying in grain handling facilities.
- We are recognized as a key player in Federal disaster response and provided life-saving guidance in the aftermath of hurricanes, oil spills, tornadoes and floods.
- We've enhanced the integrity of VPP.
- We've developed a great new website with materials on preventing injuries in hospitals.
- And, we've conducted unprecedented outreach to high risk and hard to reach workers -launching nationwide campaigns, translating our materials into multiple languages and forging new alliances that help protect the most vulnerable workers.
Together, we are making a difference.
OSHA is doing great, important things, none of which would be possible without you. Whatever you do-whether you work in an office or visit jobsites-you are all dedicated to protecting the safety and health of this nation's workers, and together we are saving lives.
And while we are making great progress, we'll never have a shortage of challenges. We must find ways to make the most of our limited resources. Deterrence is one of our most powerful tools and this year we will be working harder than ever to get our message out through the press, safety stand-downs, enforcement initiatives, and with social and digital media.
We've listened to your feedback. We know that not all inspections take equal resources, and so we shouldn't count them the same way. With this fiscal year, we've begun the transition to the enforcement weighting system to give credit to more time-intensive cases, rather than just counting the number of inspections.
The fatalities, the high-profile, high-penalty inspections, the novel cases that require more time and resources-like workplace violence, chemical or ergonomic exposures and process safety management-these cases often have the greatest deterrent effect.
I am excited to announce that in the very near future we will be e launching a new internal OSHA website where we can come together in one central place to share ideas, and have a conversation-across OSHA-about the issues that are important to all of us. Our new conversation hub will connect OSHA employees from Seattle to Savannah. So, if you have an idea, a question, a best practice you want to share, or need input from your colleagues in other offices, this is the platform for you.
The purpose of this conversation hub is to build on the success we've already had with our "Tell the Assistant Secretary" box. We've received some great suggestions - like giving employers the option to pay for penalties by credit card. We listened and now we've got that up and running.
For us to do the very best job of protecting this Nation's workers we also need to be at our best. As I have traveled to Regional and Area Offices, I have heard many of your suggestions for new training opportunities.
I'm pleased to tell you that we will be increasing the annual required courses for CSHOs, and we're also looking into ways to support different paths people can follow throughout their careers at OSHA.
The Agency has recently hired many new whistleblower investigators. This program is very important and we want to make sure our training is high quality and provides opportunities for our investigators to develop the very best skills. This is something we will be dedicating considerable energy to over the coming year.
I have also heard your ideas for agency-specific training for the many new supervisors and managers throughout the Agency. I share your concern and we are making this a priority.
Lastly, we are evaluating the results of the federal employee viewpoint survey, and have established a work group to look at how we can use this information to shape our programs and policies. The agency leadership and I agree that one of our top priorities for 2014 will be improving employee satisfaction and fostering creativity and innovation across the agency.
Our senior staff are, of course, some of our most valuable resources, and I'd like to take moment to recognize them:
- Kim Locey, director of Administrative Programs,
- Tom Galassi, director of our Enforcement Program,
- Jim Maddux, director of Construction,
- Mandy Edens, director of Technical Support and Emergency Management,
- Bill Perry, acting director of Standards and Guidance, and
- Doug Kalinowski, director for Cooperative and State Programs.
Thanks also to Hank Payne out at OTI, our director of Training and Education, to Bill Donovan, Acting Director of Whistleblower Protection Programs, and to John Hermanson, our Region VI Administrator, who is Acting Director of Evaluation and Analysis.
And I want to recognize and thank our Regional Administrators-our senior staff in the field. Thank you to Bob Hooper in Region 1, Bob Kulick in Region 2, Mary Ann Garrahan in Region 3, Terri Harrison in Region 4, Nick Walters in Region 5, Eric Harbin in Region 6, Marcia Drumm in Region 7, Greg Baxter in Region 8, and Ken Atha in Regions 9 and 10.
I am also grateful to our Deputy Regional Administrators - and our Area Directors - for their leadership and unwavering commitment to our mission.
So thank you all for your commitment, your energy and your dedication. Every day, you make me proud to head this agency. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in 2014.