Teleconference remarks prepared for
Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor
Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH)
1:30 pm. Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Good afternoon. On behalf of Secretary Hilda Solis and everyone in the Department of Labor, and especially in OSHA, I want you to know how pleased we are to have so many experienced people serving on this committee.
I also want you to know that you have my attention, and I welcome your advice. I understand that you had productive workgroup meetings yesterday. I hope that today's meeting is just as productive.
I'm glad to be back with OSHA. It's a rewarding feeling to find myself in a position to make a genuine difference in the lives of America's working men and women - and I hope everyone on this committee feels the same way about your participation.
I'm happy to speak with you today, and I want to thank each of you for taking the time to serve on this committee and for investing your energy in the working groups. In particular I want to thank Jim Thornton for chairing this committee.
A few weeks ago, on April 28 - Workers Memorial Day - people in the Department of Labor and around the world paused to remember those who have been injured or lost their lives as a result of job-related hazards. On that day, at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland, Secretary Solis and others broke ground for a memorial to those fallen workers. On the site of this memorial, they also pledged to focus their work on preventing others from being maimed and killed on the job.
You may have heard Secretary Solis declare that, under her leadership in the Department of Labor, "There's a new sheriff in town." She and I believe in vigorous enforcement of laws that protect workers. We are committed to a strong federal role in protecting workplace safety and health, as mandated in the original OSH Act that created this Agency.
We also believe that the vast majority of employers want to do right by their workers, and for these employers OSHA provides abundant opportunities to work with this Agency to prevent workplace tragedies. In that spirit, I want to thank the maritime industry for its efforts to protect its employees' safety and health. Over the past 10 years, your industry has shown a decline in occupational injuries and illnesses and lost workday rates. I applaud your efforts and hope for continued success.
I am sure that you are wondering how OSHA may operate differently under a new administration. A very noticeable change appears in our budget, where OSHA enforcement is receiving significant support.
The FY 2009 appropriation raised OSHA's budget by $27 million over the previous year. In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $13.6 million to support OSHA's Federal and State enforcement activity and improved construction targeting.
The President's FY 2010 Budget Request builds on these renewed commitments to OSHA's mission. It proposes an increase of $50.6 million for the Agency, allowing us to hire more than 200 new employees - including 130 more inspectors, 25 more discrimination investigators to pursue whistleblower complaints, and 20 more staff members who will help develop workplace standards for safety and health.
I want to be absolutely clear: OSHA is back in the business of standards and enforcement.
The recent influenza outbreak in Mexico, the United States and around the world reminds us that enforcing standards and protecting our workforce is essential to the overall safety and health of our nation.
Scientists tell us that we must remain vigilant in the coming weeks and months. From OSHA's perspective, as we consider the severe impact of a pandemic on our society and especially in our workplaces, it becomes clear that emergency preparedness must be part of the overall operating plan in every business and every worksite.
If there is any employer left in America who does not yet have a comprehensive plan in place to educate workers about how to prevent the spread of the flu, to cross-train workers in anticipation of a reduced workforce, to provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, and to prepare alternative methods for delivering goods and services at the height of a pandemic while protecting workers' safety and health, now is the time to develop and test such a plan.
Later this morning, Bill Perry will lead a discussion to help determine the maritime industry's preparedness for an influenza pandemic and how OSHA may assist.
In addition to OSHA's two principal guidance documents on pandemic flu preparedness - one for general workplaces and another for the specific needs of health care workers - OSHA recently published two QuickCards on pandemic influenza: Pandemic Flu: Respiratory Protection, and How to Protect Yourself in the Workplace during a Pandemic; and released three fact sheets: Healthcare Workplaces Classified as Very High or High Exposure Risk for Pandemic Influenza; Respiratory Infection Control: Respirators Versus Surgical Masks; and What Employers Can do to Protect Workers from Pandemic Influenza.
These publications, available in English and Spanish, are posted on OSHA's Web site. You have received three of these documents this morning.
We have also developed guidance on Workplace Stockpiling of Respirators and Facemasks for Pandemic Influenza. This guidance is awaiting publication.
Other New Products
Pandemic or not, business in America will go on, and the hazards of Maritime work must be addressed.
Last week we published the revised guidance document on shipyard industry standards. This version, updated from the 1998 edition, includes three new standards: Fire Protection for Shipyard Employment, Hexavalent Chromium, and Employer Payment for PPE. This document is now posted on OSHA's Web site and those who ordered copies should receive them soon.
Also, on April 28, OSHA published a guide to controlling silica exposure in construction practices. This is also posted on OSHA's Web page.
A guidance on Hazard Communication for Combustible Dust has been developed and is currently going through internal review.
A guidance document on ship scrapping, developed to help maintain a safe work environment, is now being reviewed by Agency staff in our National Office, as well as in Regions 1, 4, 6 and 8. We expect to receive comments by the end of this month.
Before I leave you to your work today, I want to underscore this point: Both Secretary Solis and I put a high value on getting good information and assistance from those who know their industries best. This is why you've been appointed to this important committee.
We are committed to listening to your advice and working with you because you help us fulfill our mission. The industry expertise in this room, coming from management and labor, brings important and necessary perspective to OSHA's deliberations as we seek to do everything we can to protect workers and provide effective guidance and rulemaking.
I've told OSHA's staff that they are to treat advisory committees with respect and appreciation. The result will be better products for OSHA and improved safety conditions for workers.