• Information Date
  • Presented To
    SBA's Small Business Labor Safety (OSHA/MSHA) Roundtable
  • 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

REMARKS prepared for delivery by
Assistant Secretary of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration

SBA's Small Business Labor Safety (OSHA/MSHA) Roundtable
Venerable Law Firm, Washington DC
Friday, May 12, 2006

Thank-you all for giving me an opportunity to take a few minutes of your time today to talk to you about how OSHA helps employers protect the lives of our nation's working men and women.

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA; and as I travel around the country and speak to groups like yours about OSHA's mission, I want to reach out and touch the heart of every employer I meet by explaining why every office and every worksite needs a comprehensive safety and health program.

Today we have only a short time together, so I will get right to the point...

Small Business Assistance

OSHA created the Office of Small Business Assistance in 2003, with a staff of Small Business Specialists and Safety and Health Specialists to focus solely on the needs of small businesses.

OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program has been delivering services to employers for 31 years. Through our Alliances, we are spreading the word about this valuable service.

OSHA has created two primary Small Business web pages, offering a host of linked information for small businesses. Go to www.OSHA.gov, and click "Small Business" or "Consultation."

In 1995 OSHA updated its "OSHA Small Business Handbook" -- one of OSHA's most requested and downloaded publications.

OSHA's web site has a newer, enhanced search engine to help employers of small businesses to more quickly and easily find what they are looking for to keep their employees safe and sound.

OSHA is focusing on expanding its cooperative programs to provide a greater opportunity for small businesses to participate.

For example, smaller employers who desire to participate in OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program -- "SHARP" -- may now be granted up to 18 months exemption from programmed inspections while working with our Consultation Projects to achieve SHARP status.

Our Voluntary Protection Programs Corporate Pilot provides a more efficient application and evaluation processes for organizations committed to VPP company-wide. "VPP Corporate" leverages both the company's and the Agency's resources to advance worker safety and health.

OSHA's Challenge Pilot, a roadmap to achieve recognition in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs, uses qualified Challenge Administrators to help potential VPP applicants improve their safety and health management systems. Challenge participants receive an easy-to-use online tool which tracks in three stages: expected actions, documentation, and expected outcomes. OSHA recognition is given as the company advances through each stage.

On-site Consultation

Let us focus for a moment on OSHA's On-site Consultation Program. The On-Site Consultation Program is OSHA's premier compliance assistance program to help small business employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees.

On-site Consultation is available in every state and U.S. territory. It is a cooperative, non-enforcement program, available at no cost to employers. The program offers technical assistance to employers on hazard identification and correction, and it shows employers how to maintain an effective safety and health management system. As you know, the program is operated at the state level, separate from any enforcement function. Services are delivered by a well-trained staff of safety consultants and industrial hygienists who conduct workplace assessments only at the invitation of the employer. Assessments can occur across the entire workplace, or only in areas specified by the employer -- your choice.


OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program -- SHARP -- recognizes small employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system at their worksite. Currently, more than 900 SHARP companies are operating nationwide (an increase of 14 percent over last year).

Upon receiving SHARP recognition, participants are exempted from programmed OSHA inspections during the period for which their SHARP certification is valid. Acceptance into SHARP is an achievement of status that singles out a worksite from among its business peers as a model for worksite safety and health.

Let us take a look at one of our successes:

In 1997 Odell Brewing Company's DART rate (Days Away From Work Restricted Activity) was three times the national average. In 2005, Odell's DART rate and number of illnesses and injuries was ... zero! In fact, Odell has experienced only 2 lost time injuries over the past 6 years, for a total of only 7 lost days. This is exceptional for a company of 34 employees. Certainly Odell's success stems from its hard work and collaboration with our consultants at the Colorado State University.

Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, Odell maintains outstanding workplace safety and health programs in hazard communication, hearing conservation, emergency preparedness, lockout/tag, material handling and back injury prevention. Odell's safety practices include: continuous safety training, state-of-the-art lifting equipment, and bi-weekly production meetings where incidents and near accidents are routinely discussed.

Collaborating with SBA

In addition to making small businesses a priority within OSHA, we are dedicated to working with other agencies with an interest in the well-being of small businesses

I want to share with you a few more examples of our work with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

OSHA consistently participates in SBA-sponsored Small Business Labor Safety (OSHA/MSHA) Roundtables. I know that OSHA staff have attended many of the forums over the past year where they have discussed topics such as: Silica in Construction, Hexavalent Chromium, Global Harmonization, OSHA Cooperative and compliance assistance programs, electrical power transmission, and emerging technologies.

I will return to some of these topics in a moment. Right now, I have a few more words about OSHA's collaborations with SBA...

For more than 3 years, OSHA has participated in Business Gateway. This is an SBA-led effort to develop a one-stop web portal for small businesses seeking information about regulatory requirements and compliance assistance.

OSHA has participated in every SBA-sponsored Regulatory Fairness Hearing held anywhere in the nation. This has allowed OSHA to stay connected to the needs and issues of small businesses.

Another effort we've undertaken in support of the SBA Ombudsman's Office is to centralize the management of complaints received about OSHA's enforcement practices from SBA. The complaints are submitted to OSHA through the Department of Labor's Office of Small Business Programs.

In addition to ensuring timely response to all complaints, we are tracking all comments on OSHA enforcement actions to identify if there are trends that can be corrected through training or other means. Over the past year, we have reduced the response time by half.

Compliance Assistance for Small Business

Throughout its history, OSHA has conducted outreach and provided compliance assistance in a variety of ways. In recent years, we have focused strongly on outreach services and compliance assistance for small businesses.

For example, OSHA has about 70 Compliance Assistance Specialists across the Country. They provide general information about OSHA standards and compliance assistance resources, and they respond to requests for help from a variety of groups, including small businesses, trade associations, union locals, and community and faith-based groups. I hope you will take note that our Compliance Assistance Specialists are available for speaking and exhibiting at seminars, workshops, and conferences.

Another form of Outreach and Compliance Assistance OSHA is proud of is the Agency's eTools. eTools are "stand-alone," interactive, web-based training tools on occupational safety and health topics. Some are designed to let users answer questions, and receive advice on how OSHA regulations apply to their work site.

Our most recent eTools are:
  • A Spanish translation of our information on "Preventing Fatalities in Construction" - published in February 2006
  • "Ergonomics in the Printing Industry" ¿ published in March 2006
  • "Shipyard Employment" eTools added in 2005, including "Barge Cleaning, and "Ship Breaking."
Alliances to help Small Business

OSHA has developed several Alliances involving small business since the creation of the Alliance Program in March 2002.

Our Alliance Program is a cooperative program enabling organizations committed to safety and health to work with OSHA to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the workplace. OSHA and Alliance participants work together to promote workplace safety and health among the nation's employers and their employees. Our Alliance partners include employers, labor unions, trade and professional groups, and educational institutions.

One of our small business Alliances is with the National Federation of Independent Business.

The OSHA-NFIB Alliance fosters safer, drug-free and more healthful American workplaces. The Alliance makes information and resources available to all employers, but especially small and independent businesses, to help them understand the value of implementing safety and health management system programs in their workplaces. Through this Alliance we have worked cooperatively with the National Federation of Independent Business to produce articles that NFIB has posted on its Tools & Tips Web site ? such as an article about how "A Safe Workplace is a Drug-Free Workplace." Another article, about OSHA's Hispanic outreach resources, was included in a Federation newsletter that reaches 80,000 readers.

In 2005, the NFIB supported and promoted OSHA's Hispanic Fairs in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and the Federation is promoting OSHA's June 2006 Hispanic Family Health and Safety Fair in New York. NFIB also supported a workshop for non-chemists: "Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards." This workshop was presented twice by the OSHA and Chemical Reactivity Hazards Management Alliance.

These are examples of some of the many initiatives OSHA is pursuing to improve compliance assistance and outreach services to the small employer. Under my leadership, OSHA will continue to explore innovative ways to work with small employers to protect every worker in America.

Now, I know there are specific OSHA initiatives on your agenda for discussion today. Let me give you a brief update on some of them:

Big Issue #1: HexChrome

As everyone here is well aware, 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.

I know that Mandy Edens from OSHA's Directorate for Standards and Guidance has spoken with you about hexchrome last month, and you know as much about this topic as anyone, so let me just remind you. 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.

Let me add that OSHA worked hard to produce a standard that substantially reduces the significant health risks for employees. We believe 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

Here is another major issue OSHA that has been very much in the headlines -- the preparations being formulated by local, state and federal agencies to respond to the threat of pandemic influenza. For almost a year, we have been preparing for the possibility that one strain of the avian influenza virus could mutate to a highly transmissible human virus. If this happens, it has the potential to cause a pandemic 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.

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: 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." For any businesses using or producing chemicals as part of their operations, this will interest you:

OSHA has 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. I hope that businesses will respond to the advance notice and provide us with the information we seek.

Big Issue #4: 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 many businesses have expressed an interest in updating permissible exposure limits (PELs). 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.

I am from the government...

At the end of the day, people working in OSHA, in small business, in big business -- everyone -- wants the same thing: to go home to their families and friends, safe and whole. OSHA's mission is to help employers and employees achieve this every day.

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 the government in Washington, it is a genuine pleasure to speak with you today about how we can work together to assure the safety and health of every working man and woman.

The Power of Prevention

If there is a single message that the working community needs to hear again and again, it is that the best and least expensive way for a business or organization to reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, it is through prevention.

This has been scientifically measured and reported in the annual Workplace Safety Index issued each year by Liberty Mutual. The insurance company's research division reviews trends in the leading causes of the most serious workplace injuries between 1998 and 2003.

Here are the latest findings:

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 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."

This isn't opinion. It's a proven fact that when employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health program, incidents of injury and illness go down, insurance costs go down, and worker's compensation payments go down. At the same time, employee morale goes up, productivity goes up, competitiveness goes up, and profits go up.

If everyone in this room today can go back to their organizations and companies and other clients, and if we can drive home this point, I think we will see great progress in bringing the bad numbers down and the good numbers up.

If I can leave you with two final thoughts today, here they are:

Number one: Workplace injuries are expensive; on-the-job fatalities are really expensive; OSHA's advice is free.

Number 2: Think of OSHA as your best 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.

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 ? improving lives. Together, there is so much we can do to make workplaces safer and more healthful for employees.

And remember: I mean it sincerely when I say: "I am from the government, and I am here to help."