• Information Date
  • Presented To
    ORC's Occupational Safety and Health Group
  • Speaker(s)
    Edwin G. Foulke Jr.
  • Status
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


As Prepared for Delivery
Edwin G. Foulke Jr.
Assistant Secretary of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration

ORC Worldwide
Spring Quarterly Meeting
ORC's Occupational Safety and Health Group
Fairmont Hotel
2041 M. St. NW, Washington, DC
11:15 a.m. Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Thank-you for that kind and gracious introduction.

I have been on the job in Washington for five and a half weeks now, and in that short time, I can already say that it is an honor to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health -- particularly in this anniversary year as OSHA celebrates 35 years of progress.

Since its inception in 1971, OSHA has helped cut workplace fatalities by more than 60 percent and occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent.

During that same period, U.S. employment has doubled -- to more than 115 million workers at 7.2 million worksites.

Today, OSHA's work continues as we strive to remind employers of their responsibility to keep their employees safe.

You know, Ronald Reagan said "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' "

You also know that President Reagan had a great sense of humor and a great love of public service. It wasn't government that he distrusted as much as bureaucracy that stood in the way of public servants serving The People.

So, as a public servant representing your government in Washington, it is a genuine pleasure to speak with you today about a subject that is near and dear to my heart: the safety and health of every working man and woman.

OSHA Issues
This morning I will briefly address some current OSHA issues that I think will interest you, including OSHA's budget, an update on our standards and guidance documents, and how OSHA takes a balanced approach to pursue its mission.

But then we will get to the heart of my message, which is the power of prevention and its impact on a business' bottom line.

First, let's take a look at what is happening at OSHA:

Big Issue #1: Hexavalent Chromium
On February 28, OSHA published in the Federal Register a final standard for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium in general industry, construction and shipyards. About 558,000 workers are covered by the provisions of the new standard.

On OSHA's web page we have posted the complete final standard along with a wealth of supporting information -- including a SUMMARY of the standard and frequently asked questions.

On our Health Topics Page we detail the health effects of hexavalent chromium, we explain how to recognize the hazard and evaluate exposure, and we provide links to more resources. I encourage everyone to visit our web pages and read up on the subject.

OSHA worked hard to produce a standard that substantially reduces the significant health risks for employees exposed to hex chrome compounds -- from 52 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

OSHA believes that the new standard protects workers to the extent feasible, while providing employers -- especially small employers -- adequate time to come into compliance.

Big Issue #2: Pandemic Flu Preparedness
I'll mention one more major OSHA initiative this morning that has been very much in the headlines -- and that is the preparations being formulated by local, state and federal agencies to respond to the threat of pandemic influenza.

We have been preparing for the possibility that one strain of the avian influenza virus could mutate to a highly transmissible human virus and cause a pandemic illness, the likes of which hasn't been seen since 1918.

OSHA has already issued a guidance document for workers most likely to be exposed to the bird flu -- including farm workers, laboratory workers, medical personnel that transfer and treat avian flu patients, food handlers, and airline crews. Right now we're updating our March 2004 guidance, and a new one is expected soon.

Looking beyond avian influenza to a pandemic human influenza, OSHA has been working under the leadership of the White House and in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agriculture Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In consultation with these government agencies, OSHA is developing guidelines for employers and employees to prepare for -- and to follow -- should a pandemic arise.

And in the latest news, last week (May 3) the White House announced the implementation plan for The National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza. The President's Homeland Security Advisor, Frances Townsend, discussed the Avian and Pandemic Influenza threat and outlined the Federal Government's preparedness and response steps.

The Plan translates the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza into more than 300 actions for Federal departments and agencies and sets clear expectations for State and local governments and other non-Federal entities. It also provides guidance for all Federal departments and agencies on the development of their own plans.

I hope everyone will go to the White House web site (www.whitehouse.gov) to become familiar with the latest news in this national defense effort. You will find there a transcript of the press briefing, a fact sheet summarizing the implementation plan, and the full text of the plan. You will also find the definitive information at this web site: www.pandemicflu.gov

Big Issue #3: Hurricane Response
Since the terrible events of 9-11, emergency preparedness has been at the forefront of the administration's agenda.

In 2005, OSHA faced -- and met -- one of the greatest challenges in its 35-year history. I am very proud of how the Agency responded when and where OSHA was most needed.

In the days before hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma landed, OSHA employees were in contact with local utility offices in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas to offer services and support, and to arrange pre-deployment safety briefings.

And in the wake of each of the hurricanes, OSHA teams rapidly moved in to consult with the crews engaged in the restoration of power lines, tree trimming, roof repair, debris removal, and work near roadways.

At its peak, OSHA had about 100 employees deployed to the affected areas -- a recovery site of 90,000 square miles spread over five states.

By our latest count, OSHA employees have interacted with over 16,000 work crews and handed out tens of thousands of QuickCards, safety and health fact sheets, and other technical assistance information.

We estimate that OSHA's efforts have resulted in the removal of more than 58,000 workers from hazardous situations that could have led to serious injury or death.

And under the Worker Safety and Health Annex to the National Response Plan that was activated by FEMA, OSHA was the coordinating agency assigned to help Federal responders and contractors work safely.

Big Issue #4: Global Harmonization
I also have news this morning about OSHA's activities related to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, known as the GHS.

We have prepared an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to consider modifications to our Hazard Communication Standard to adopt the GHS in American workplaces.

The advance notice details how OSHA expects implementation of the GHS to affect the current requirements for hazard communication.

The public will be invited to provide input to help the Agency move forward on this issue.

We are particularly eager to obtain information needed to perform the economic analyses required to accompany the rule. The advance notice includes a number of questions to solicit the needed data.

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking is in the final stages of review prior to publication in the Federal Register. We hope it will be released soon.

At the same time, we plan to make available a detailed guide that explains the GHS.

We hope that ORC companies will respond to the advance notice and provide us with the information we seek. I understand that you have formed a task force on the GHS, and are prepared to provide substantive input. This will be very helpful.

We can also use your help in informing other stakeholders about the GHS, and the potential benefits of US implementation of the system.

We look forward to working with you in this area.

Big Issue #5: PELs
Maintaining standards that are up-to-date and reflect current technology is a daunting challenge for OSHA.

As you know, the rulemaking process is long and complex. This helps to ensure that consideration is given to all views, and that a thorough data collection and analysis can be completed.

But it also leads to a situation where standards are infrequently updated because the process is difficult to complete.

I know that ORC members have expressed interest particularly in updating permissible exposure limits.

This is a topic that has been of interest to me for many years. I am looking forward to studying the many aspects of this issue to determine what may be done to meet the challenges and improve the situation.

President Bush has requested $483.7 million for OSHA in fiscal year 2007. The request represents an increase of $11.2 million over the final FY06 appropriations.

The proposed budget provides dollar increases necessary to support OSHA's current staff and activities, while providing increases for two new initiatives:
  • First: $7.5 million to develop a safety and health information system that will replace OSHA's 15-year-old Management Information System. This new system will ensure our ability to measure results and provide accurate and timely information on all OSHA enforcement and compliance assistance programs.

  • Second: $2.6 million to expand outreach to Hispanic and non-English-speaking workers, as well as to workers involved in the hurricane cleanup and recovery operations along the Gulf Coast.
We believe the President's proposed budget will help OSHA maintain its balanced approach to workplace safety and health...

OSHA'S balanced approach
The cornerstone of our overall prevention strategy is our standards. We believe that employers and employees follow our standards will experience a much safer and healthful workplace.

Our "balanced approach" means that OSHA pursues its mission to protect American workers with three components: (1) Strong, fair and effective enforcement; (2) outreach, education and compliance assistance; and (3) cooperative and voluntary programs.

Let's take a brief look each of these three areas:

Enforcement continues to play an important role in reducing workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

Enforcement tools such as OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting Program and our Enhanced Enforcement Program serve to effectively and efficiently direct OSHA's resources to those establishments with the highest injury and illness rates.

Richard Fairfax, the director of OSHA's Directorate for Enforcement spoke to you Tuesday on this subject, so I'll say only a few words more about enforcement.

OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting program -- SST -- is our main programmed inspection plan for non-construction worksites that have 40 or more employees. It is based on the data received from the prior year's OSHA Data Initiative survey, and it directs our enforcement resources to those worksites where the highest rates of injuries and illness have occurred.

Last month OSHA sent letters to almost 14,000 high-injury-rate employers. The letters encourage these employers to use OSHA's free consultation service to improve their safety and health programs. Out of this group, OSHA expects to target for inspection about 4,400 employers with the highest injury rates.

OSHA's Enhanced Enforcement Program further sharpens our targeted approach to enforcement by focusing on employers who, despite OSHA's enforcement and outreach efforts, ignore their OSH Act obligations, thereby placing their employees at risk.

During FY2005, OSHA identified 591 inspections that qualified as EEP cases -- that's DOUBLE the number of the preceding year.

Workplaces of employers that have been identified under the EEP, and which are also on the SST targeting lists, are bumped up in priority for inspection.

You'll be interested to know that a key enforcement tool, our Field Inspection Reference Manual -- what we call the FIRM -- is going through its first major update since 1994. We're making it more user friendly and easier to navigate on the web, and it will incorporate other directives and policy memoranda.

Enforcement works, and it is strengthened when supported by the complementary strategies of outreach and cooperative programs.

Outreach, Education and Compliance
As with enforcement, our outreach efforts are focused where help is needed most.

We have been developing an ever-expanding offering of outreach materials for targeted industries in the form of QuickCards, Pocket Guides, Guidances, and fact sheets -- in both English and Spanish -- which we distribute in hard copy and post on our extensive web pages.

We are continually updating our web pages, which present more than 200 different Safety and Health Topics Pages, many of which are also in Spanish.

Our OSHA Training Institute, just outside Chicago, continues to offer a wide array of training and education -- nearly 60 courses -- on safety and health issues for federal and state employees, consultants, and private sector employers, employees and their representatives.

Last year 376,000 people took part in OSHA-sponsored training programs -- that's an increase of 23 percent over 2004.

Cooperative and Voluntary Programs
The third part of our balanced approach at OSHA is provided by our cooperative and voluntary programs.

OSHA's premier cooperative program, our Voluntary Protection Programs, represents the highest levels of commitment to occupational safety and health. VPP has been incredibly successful for both employers and OSHA. We've seen it grow by an average of 15 percent each year for the last five years with more than 1,400 federal and state plan VPP worksites now on board.

Most of you are familiar with the OSHA Challenge and VPP Corporate pilots that we launched in 2004. I am sure you are eager to hear about their progress.

OSHA Challenge is designed to provide a roadmap to VPP and helps guide participants to implement an effective safety and health management system.

OSHA Challenge offers a process to help workplaces rise to the VPP level. There are currently 63 Challenge Participants in our pilot.

Since we inaugurated the OSHA Challenge in May 2004, the program has gained 63 participants.

Four companies have successfully completed the Challenge Program -- Garber Brothers, Weitz Company, C.R. Meyers & Sons, and Repcon Inc. Two have been recommended for Star Demonstration Status by the Onsite teams, and two others plan to submit VPP applications by the end of May.

Participants' feedback has indicated that OSHA Challenge participants gain:
  • a competitive edge over non-participating companies,
  • a manageable process to achieve VPP Star status
  • Increased support of companies' top-level management for safety and health efforts, and
  • a cooperative relationship with OSHA.
Meanwhile, VPP Corporate is geared towards organizations that have already made VPP a key component of their safety and health management system corporate-wide. This pilot streamlines the application and onsite evaluation processes by eliminating redundancies while maintaining the quality and integrity of VPP.

Three corporations, approved and participating in VPP Corporate -- Georgia Pacific, US Postal Service, and International Paper -- are successfully using the new VPP Corporate processes.

Dow Chemical and Washington Group International recently completed their corporate program evaluations, and their approvals are under review.

We have received applications from General Electric and Johnson & Johnson, and their onsite evaluations will be conducted later this year.

So far, 29 corporate facilities have successfully entered VPP under this program; the majority was awarded Star status.

Initial feedback on the Corporate Pilot from the OSHA Regional Offices and the participating corporations has been extremely positive.

Corporate representatives indicate that benefits of the Pilot include:
  • a conservation of resources,
  • standardization of safety and health operations,
  • and the opportunity to take companies to a whole new level of safety performance.
As I mentioned, the U.S. Postal Service is a participant in VPP Corporate Pilot. The ultimate goal of the Service is to achieve VPP at all its facilities. That is quite an undertaking when you consider that USPS has 38,000 facilities nationwide!

We have already seen some incredible results after only one year of participation in the pilot:
  • Injury and illness rates are 232 percent below the comparable industry rates at USPS VPP sites.

  • At VPP Corporate worksites, the projected saving from reduced injuries and illnesses [lower DART rate] at USPS VPP sites is more than $5 million!
You may also recall that OSHA issued a Federal Register Notice in 2004, proposing a VPP for Construction Program (VPPC).

OSHA has been looking at the numerous complex issues involved as we evaluate the best course of action to create a program that will effectively meet the needs of the construction industry.

Next, I want to give you an update on the OSHA Strategic Partnership Program.

As you know, the program works to establish voluntary, cooperative relationships between OSHA and groups of employers or large multi-site companies, along with their employees, employee representatives, and other interested stakeholders.

We currently have 165 active partnerships.

I'd like to highlight a recent success we achieved through our Strategic Partnership Program:
  • OSHA's national partnership with the United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Company has been active since 2000.

  • It reported an 11.4 percent reduction in the Total Case Incidence Rate (TCIR), and a 26.6 percent reduction in the Days Away, Restricted and Transferred (DART) rate at partnership sites for the calendar year 2004 evaluation period.

  • The severity rate, which measures the average number of days that employees are away from work, dropped by 31.7 percent.
Finally, the Alliance Program, our youngest cooperative program was created in March 2002.

This cooperative program enables organizations committed to safety and health to work with OSHA to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the workplace.

At end of March 2006, we had a total of 431 national, regional and area Alliances.

There have been many successes through this innovative program. For example, last month we posted to the agency's Web site a case study developed through our Alliance with The Dow Chemical Company...

Through that Alliance, Dow worked with OSHA to produce a case study on
  • reducing motor vehicle safety accidents,
  • identifying their root causes, and
  • implementing effective motor safety programs.
These Dow case studies offer useful information to all employers and demonstrate the correlation between safety and health excellence and business excellence.

Also, Dow conducted 3 training sessions for OSHA employees on the company's approach to process safety management.

While on the subject of Alliances, I want to express my appreciation for ORC's participation in a roundtable that is part of the OSHA and Society for Chemical Hazard Communication Alliance.

Roundtable participants will be developing compliance assistance materials related to the GHS initiative, which I mentioned earlier. This initiative should especially benefit small businesses.

The aim, of course, of all these programs is to prevent workplace illnesses, injuries, and fatalities.

The Power of Prevention
In my nomination hearing before the Senate committee earlier this year, I spoke about my belief that the best and least expensive way for a business or organization to reduce workplace injuries, illness, and fatalities is through prevention.

This is not just my opinion. It has been scientifically measured and reported in the annual Workplace Safety Index issued each year by Liberty Mutual.

The insurance company's research division looks at trends among the leading causes of the most serious workplace injuries.

Let me take a moment to tell you what the research found:
  • In 2002, serious work-related injuries cost employers almost $1 billion per week in payments to injured workers and their medical care providers.

  • The research found that over 40 percent of senior financial executives cite "productivity" as the top benefit of an effective workplace safety program. They most frequently mention "better training" as their preferred safety intervention.

  • Liberty Mutual's study also says that, despite today's lower workplace illness and injury rates, there is still a lot of work to be done. Employers need to continue "to build partnerships between risk managers, safety directors and senior financial executives."

  • The report advises that "risk managers and safety directors should continue to help senior financial executives understand the process of improving safety."
Workplace Safety Saves Money
Let me drive home my point: It is a proven fact that when employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health program, incidents of injury, illness, and fatalities go down, insurance goes down, and workers' compensation payments go down. At the same time, employee morale goes up, productivity goes up, competitiveness goes up, and profits go up.

Think of it this way: In today's highly competitive global economy, when employers are looking for ways to increase their profit margin, any savings is important.

In many cases, even a one percent increase in profits can mean the difference between a company succeeding here or facing the unhappy choice of shipping American jobs out of the country -- just to compete.

But I'm not talking about saving one percent. The American Society of Safety Engineers estimates that workplace injuries rob employers of 25 percent of all their pretax corporate profits. That's a tremendous impact on the bottom line.

On the flipside, ASSE says companies that implement effective safety and health programs reduce their injury and illness rates an average of 20 percent.

So here is my pitch: It costs a company far less to institute preventive measures than to wait for the inevitable, expensive consequences of a workplace illness, accident or fatality. The savings and increased productivity that an employer will realize by investing in workplace safety can help a company survive.

The Human Toll
Now, all this time I have been talking about the economic toll on a business that does not have a comprehensive workplace safety and health program. Of course, there is another cost, and that is the economic and emotional impact of an illness, injury, or fatality on the life of an employee and all the co-workers, friends, family and the community.

Having been involved in numerous OSHA investigations in my career, I have seen the devastating effects that a single workplace fatality has on a wide circle of people connected to one employee.

Here's a statistic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Institute for Research on Poverty: The average workplace accident costs an employee $8,000, often forcing him to dip into savings or default on payments.

In fact, American Express reports that workplace disabilities are the number one reason people default on their home loan.

You cannot minimize these tragedies, which is why injury, illness and fatality prevention is my top priority at OSHA.

If everyone here today can go back to their organizations, companies and other clients, and if we can drive home the message that prevention saves lives and improves productivity, the impact on millions of workplaces, families and neighborhoods will be dramatic

OSHA's web site at www.osha.gov is loaded with information and guidance documents to show you and your members how to keep employees healthy and safe -- and the advice is free.

If you want any of our popular QuickCards for your employees, you can go online and order a stack for free.

The same goes for a host of other publications, including our guidance documents, our free twice-monthly QuickTakes e-newsletter, facts sheets, pocket guides, and posters.

We also have a host of free online training materials, including e-tools, Compliance Assistance Quick Start modules, and complete PowerPoint presentations -- among them: Lockout/Tagout and Hazard Communications.

And look to OSHA for compliance assistance resources and outreach information. In addition, the agency's cooperative programs provide opportunities for industry to work with the agency to address workplace safety and health issues.

BOTTOM LINE: Workplace injuries are expensive; on-the-job fatalities are really expensive; OSHA's advice is free, and it's all there on line at www.osha.gov

You know, when I talk about OSHA's impact on America's workforce, I often think of the contribution of a great American patriot, Noah Webster.

In his day, at the beginning of the American Revolution, Webster observed how Americans in different parts of the country spelled, pronounced and used words differently. There was no authority on the subject, no standard way to spell and certainly no reliable, consistent guide.

So, he spent 20 years developing the book that would make him an undisputed authority and a household name. Almost overnight, Webster's dictionary became THE RESOURCE for spelling and usage.

In the same way, I want Americans to think of OSHA as THE RESOURCE for workplace safety and health information.

Today, more people turn to OSHA for help than any other workplace safety and health organization. This is a distinction that we are extremely proud of, and it is my mission as OSHA's Administrator to make us the best resource for occupational safety and health in the world.

Questions and Answers!
Each year our correspondence manager compiles a report on questions that come into OSHA from businesses, organizations, employees, and the general public. You can imagine the wide range of questions we receive every day -- from the urgent and serious to the mundane and occasionally... unusual.

I have with me the TOP FIVE most unusual questions of 2005. Let's take a look:

#5: "Does OSHA regulate song lists played over a store's stereo?"
-- Let me tell you: Sometimes I wish we did!

#4: "Does the word 'MUST' in OSHA standards mean I HAVE to do it?"
-- The complicated, long-winded answer to that is... YES!

#3: "For employee bathrooms, what kind of toilet seat does OSHA require?"
[PAUSE] Go ahead, make up your own answer. I'll sit this one out!

You have to believe me. I am not making these up!

#2: "How do you go about using hazardous warning labels on products that are not hazardous?"
Now, see, a question like that usually prompts a return question from OSHA: "WHAT are you DOING?!!"

And... OSHA's number-one question last year:

#1: "Instead of respirators, is it okay if workers just hold their breath?"

My point is, no matter how dull or odd your question may be, if it has to do with workplace safety and health, please "Ask OSHA." We are your best resource for answers.

I will ask you to do just one thing more for me: When you find good ideas for motivating managers and employees to embrace workplace safety please write and tell me. Send me your success stories and I may include them in my speeches, or post them on our web page, or I may feature your safety success stories in our twice-monthly OSHA QUICKTAKES newsletter which goes out to 55,000 subscribers.

And if you are not a subscriber yet, you can sign up at our home page. It's... free!

So, let me ask you: Have I made a convincing case for OSHA and the benefits of workplace safety? Have I persuaded you to make OSHA your favorite resource?

I hope so, because we really are in the same business... of improving lives. Together, there is so much we can do to make workplaces safer.

Just remember: We are from the government, and we are here to help.

And please... stay safe, everyone. God bless.