Presented ToIndustrial Truck Association (ITA) National Forklift Safety Day
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
Industrial Truck Association (ITA) National Forklift Safety Day
June 14, 2022
Thank you, Chuck, for that introduction. And thank you, Brian, for the invitation and the opportunity to be here to speak to the ITA this morning. It is good to be able to be together in person.
And thank you to everyone who is attending virtually. As great as it is to be together in person, it is just as great to be able to use technology to connect with even more people and talk about safety than can attend in person. It is important that we all come together to discuss workplace safety and health issues and find ways for the different stakeholders to work together to ensure that workers have the protections they need and deserve.
Safety and health must be more than a slogan. It must be a woven into the fabric of the company – from the design of the equipment to the design and supervision of the work itself. Safety and health are as important as inventory and profits
This has been my focus throughout my career thru my time as the Director of CalOSHA. Now, in my role as the head of OSHA, I am looking to continue this work - the work of establishing safety and health as a core value in every American workplace.
If you ask people what they value most in their life, what they really care about, most will say it is their health, and the health and safety of their loved ones. We hold our families' health and safety as a fundamental, core value. And yet, far too often, we do not live by this value when it comes to how we design, supervise, and perform work.
Our goal at OSHA is to align this most basic and fundamental shared value – our health and safety and that of our families – with the core values of every workplace in America, and to ensure we are equitable and inclusive and reaching and protecting all workers in our efforts.
We are working to ensure that workers have good jobs that are also safe and healthy so they can go to work each day knowing that everything is being done to make sure they return to their families and friends at the end of their shift.
In doing this work, we recognize that there are three general groups of companies or employers:
- Role models. These are businesses that make health and safety a priority and ensure that the health and safety of workers is at the center of what they do.
- There are also companies that see workplace injuries and illnesses simply as the cost of doing business. They do not have a culture of safety and health.
- The third group – and this is the majority of employers - falls in the middle. They want to do the right thing but need some help, guidance, training, or other assistance.
We want to do more to highlight the companies that make safety and health a part of their daily operations to show that it is possible to operate a successful, profitable business while making worker safety a priority. For the employers that put workers at risk, we will continue to use all tools available to protect workers. And for that last group, we want to help them build a health and safety culture into all aspects of their business.
We have a number of ways OSHA is working to do this:
- Our on-site Consultation Program
- Outreach Training Institute, Education Centers, Susan Harwood Grant Training Program
- Encourage companies to develop a safety and health programs through our Safe and Sound program.
- OSHA is also in the process of hiring more Compliance Assistance Specialists to help us connect with and help business owners know and understand what it takes to be compliant and even go beyond compliance.
OSHA also has several campaigns that help business owners with compliance by increasing awareness of safety and health topics. One of those is the Safe and Sound Campaign that I know the ITA is a partner in. We look to organizations like yours to help spread this message and for ways we can work together to achieve these goals and move more companies in to that first category.
I also know the ITA was promoted to Alliance Program Ambassador status in 2020. This recognizes that OSHA and the ITA have built—and will continue to maintain—a productive, cooperative relationship.
We know, going forward, there are many opportunities to work together to continue to improve safety and health both in manufacturing and operations of forklifts.
The forklift industry has been using technology to great advantage. Designing and manufacturing self-driving and automated powered industrial trucks shows a clear vision of future—actually present day—work situations.
As technology continues to change and advance, we must all continue to examine safety training requirements for equipment operators, as well as the people who work around forklifts as they move about workplaces. That kind of vision and forward thinking will always be important.
Likewise, as you develop the equipment itself – how can we implement safety into the very design of the forklifts. The design of the tools workers use can be as important as—the training on and use of the tools and equipment.
As we look at safety and health across the workforce today, there are a number of issues that stand out and are priorities for the agency now and as we go forward.
After the last 2 years, it is difficult to talk about safety and the workforce without considering the impacts COVID-19 has had and continues to have in the workplace. COVID-19 has been the occupational health issue of our time. OSHA has responded, and continues to respond, to the COVID-19 pandemic, working to ensure readiness in case of future workplace outbreaks.
Warehouse workers—many of them forklift operators—have been essential personnel throughout the pandemic. They continued to go to their workplaces and do their jobs during the height of the spread of the disease. I suspect that many of your workers in the manufacturing and supply chain for forklifts have also been part of the workforce that worked through the worst of the pandemic, too.
Now, while things have changed - we are fortunate to have vaccines and understand more about the spread and prevention of COVID-19, these workers, nevertheless, continue to face exposure hazards in the workplace. This is an opportunity for companies to take the steps to either start or continue making health and safety a core value by addressing these continuing COVID risks – making COVID precautions part of their safety health management systems or through other methods for protecting workers from potential exposures.
The dangers of extreme heat are getting progressively worse due to the impact of climate change (18 of the last 19 summers were the hottest on record), making the need to protect workers from heat hazards both critically important and urgent. Heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related phenomena. More than 900 workers have died from heat-related issues since 1992.
Because workers of color make up a high percentage of the workers in many industries that work in high heat environments and exert themselves at high levels, these workers are disproportionally affected by the hazards of heat. This makes heat not just a health issue but an issue of racial equity.
We know—as you do—that warehouses and manufacturing plants and the many other places that forklift operators do their jobs can have very high temperatures all year long and in all parts of the country. These workers can exert themselves in these high temperatures. This combination of high temperature and exertion can lead to illness, injury, and death if not properly mitigated.
Further, heat can cause impaired judgment, not only risking the health and safety of employee affected by the heat, but potentially those working around the employee operating the forklift.
Last fall, we issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to gather information on how to move forward. While that process continues, we are moving forward in other ways to address the issue.
In April this year, Secretary Walsh and Vice President Harris announced the launch of OSHA's National Emphasis Program on heat. This NEP will allow us to target more than 70 industries that are high-risk for workers in both outdoor and indoor settings, like farm workers, construction workers, and warehouse workers. This NEP will allow OSHA to—for the first time—proactively inspect workplaces for heat-related hazards before workers suffer preventable injuries, illnesses, or fatalities. The NEP establishes heat-related inspection goals and aligns OSHA's threshold for initiating programmed inspections with when the National Weather Service issues Heat Advisories or Heat Warnings.
Earlier this year the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health convened a heat working group that brings together experts from across many industries and the military. Last month (May 3), OSHA hosted a public meeting on our heat initiatives. More than 1,500 people participated and 68 people provided comments and testimony. Those 68 people were selected from nearly 500 people who requested to provide comments.
We know that there is a great deal of interest in this topic and there will be more opportunities to engage in the future, and we encourage you and the ITA members to participate.
I know that many of you are interested in the ongoing work on the Powered Industrial Trucks Design Standard update.
OSHA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in February this year. This action is focused on the incorporation reference of the national consensus standards listed in OSHA's rule for the design and construction requirements of powered industrial trucks. The comment period for this NPRM closed on May 17 and OSHA is currently reviewing the comments that were received. Most of the 23 comments received were supportive of the NPRM and a few were outside the scope of the proposal. Those comments were useful, though, and will be considered in any future actions OSHA may take with updating its standard in the future.
This rulemaking will update OSHA's general industry and construction powered industrial truck standards by adding references to the latest design and construction requirements published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in conjunction with the Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation (ITSDF).
Updating consensus standards is part of OSHA's long-term plan. There are nearly 200 consensus and industry standards that are either incorporated by reference in our safety standards or form the underlying basis for the standards. Some of these consensus standards are more than 50 years old and do not reflect the improved safety equipment, machinery, and work practices being used in all industries. OSHA adopted its initial powered industrial truck standard in 1971. It was based on the design and construction requirements of the 1969 industry consensus standard for powered industrial trucks. Since the promulgation of that standard, ANSI has updated its consensus standards several times and reorganized its B56 standards by dividing the scope of B56.1 into several volumes for different types of trucks. OSHA hopes to publish the final rule soon, but there is not a specific date or timeline for that at this time.
We at OSHA want workers to have good jobs that are safe and healthful. Workers deserve to go to work each day knowing that everything has been done to allow them to return safely to their families and friends at the end of their shift. We know this is something you want, as well, and I look forward to working with you to achieve these goals.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.