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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

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

McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Good morning, everyone, and thank you 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 ¿ and how industrial hygienists can help.

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 about OSHA's mission, I want to reach out and touch the heart of everyone I meet by explaining why every worksite needs a comprehensive safety and health program.

I know I am preaching to the choir on a subject that you also care passionately about, so in the time we have together today I am going to present:
  • An update on some of OSHA's "big issues" that you are encountering in your own work,
  • A look at OSHA's Alliance with AIHA, and
  • Some motivational language I use when speaking to employers and employees on "the power of prevention."
Let me begin with an update of some big issues in OSHA. Number one is hexavalent chromium.

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.

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 also providing employers adequate time to come into compliance.

Big Issue #2: Pandemic Flu Preparedness

Here is another major issue for 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 are updating our March 2004 guidance, and the 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 has gone to the White House web site (www.whitehouse.gov) to become familiar with the latest news in this national defense effort. Posted there is 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 the 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."

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, organizations, and individuals will respond to the advance notice and provide OSHA 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.

OSHA Alliance with AIHA

OSHA has enjoyed an Alliance agreement with the American Industrial Hygiene Association since 2002 and then renewed in 2004. The Alliance has been productive ¿ as I will relate in just a moment.

But first, for anyone who is not familiar with OSHA's Alliance Program, here is a quick review:

OSHA has established Alliance agreements with a wide variety of industries including meat, apparel, poultry, steel, plastics, maritime, printing, chemical, construction, paper and telecommunications. These agreements address many safety and health hazards and at-risk audiences; including those in OSHA's Strategic Management Plan.

The Alliance Program has given OSHA an effective way to work closely with trade and professional organizations, businesses, labor organizations, educational institutions, and other government agencies.

OSHA and the participating organizations define, implement, and meet a set of short- and long-term goals that fall into three categories: training and education; outreach and communication, and promoting a national dialogue on workplace safety and health.

Through these agreements, OSHA and its Alliance Program participants expand their reach into local communities, providing employers with training courses, products, and services for hard-to-reach employees.

We work together to produce safety and health materials, including Safety and Health Topics pages and eTools for the web. Together, we develop fact sheets that the Program participants distribute to employers and employees through web sites, print publications, and at conferences and trade shows like the one we are attending today.

Program participants are also working with OSHA to develop and hold best-practice seminars for OSHA staff to provide in-depth information on how industries implement safety and health programs and address hazards in the workplace.

The Alliance Program estimates that through working with the participating organizations, OSHA has been able to reach more than 8 million workers, employees, and/or association members. Potentially we can reach millions more.

OSHA and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) first signed their Alliance October 10, 2002, and renewed it April 23, 2004. Through the Alliance Program, OSHA and AIHA have participated in a number of productive activities.

For example, OSHA representatives routinely participate in roundtables and other technical sessions at AIHce. At this year's conference, OSHA staff members are addressing topics such as young workers, lead hazards, emergency preparedness and response, and confined space.

AIHA worked with several other Alliance Program participants to promote the 2006 North American Occupational Safety and Health Week, which was April 30 through May 6, 2006. NAOSH Week is sponsored by the American Society of Safety Engineers ? an Alliance Program participant ? and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers. AIHA provided similar support for the 2005 NAOSH Week events.

Through our Alliance with AIHA, three OSHA representatives are participating as ad hoc members on AIHA's Ergonomics Committee to facilitate communication between the two organizations and to address ergonomics-related issues.

AIHA representatives serve as members on the editorial boards of the 27 OSHA Safety and Health Topics pages, including confined space, emergency preparedness and response, ionizing radiation, and sampling and analysis.

Two AIHA members serve on the editorial board of OSHA's Noise and Conservation Hearing eTool.

OSHA and AIHA are in the process of renewing their Alliance for a second time. The Alliance renewal agreement focuses on providing information, guidance, and access to training resources that will help protect employees' health and safety.

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's 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 and profits go up, and competitiveness goes 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 driving the good numbers up.

OSHA: The Resource

You can start -- today -- by visiting OSHA's web site: www.osha.gov

Our web pages are loaded with information and guidance documents to show employers and employees how to keep everyone healthy and safe ¿ and the advice is free.

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

The same goes for a host of other free 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.

My Commitment

Over the past few minutes I've shared a bit about my view of OSHA. Now, I'd like to share a bit about myself, so that you know where I'm coming from.

I may be new to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but I am not new to occupational safety and health. In fact, I have dedicated my entire adult life to helping to reduce the number of people who die while trying to earn a living.

I did not always intend for this to be my path. I was trained in labor law, not occupational safety. But in my first job out of law school, I was sent to a construction company to conduct employment training. A worker died on the site that morning, and it changed me forever. I had worked construction as a teenager and knew how dangerous it could be. I knew from that moment on that my life's mission would be dedicated to safety and health.

I believe, as you do, that even one death, is one too many.

Let me make this clear. It is every employer's responsibility to provide safe and healthy working conditions for their employees. But it is not just a responsibility; it makes good business sense.


I hope my message on The Power of Prevention helps all of you here today in your conversations with employers and employees

Please remember that OSHA is your best RESOURCE for workplace safety and health information.

I hope you enjoy your conference, and please stop by the expo to say hello to the OSHA staff.

Oh -- wait, there is one more thing I will ask you to remember: I mean it sincerely when I say: "I am from the government, and I am here to help."