Presented ToAdvisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health Meeting
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health
June 15, 2022
Good morning, and welcome to our first ACCSH meeting in nearly a year. Thank you for your time today and your interest in the safety and health of construction workers.
First, a special welcome to the committee's newest member, Mr. Kenneth Seal. Mr. Seal is an industrial specialist and safety and health representative for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. He joins the committee as an employee representative.
I want to let you know how much I appreciate your concern for construction workers and your interest in making their work environments safer and more healthful. We are very interested your recommendations that will help us as we work to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry each year.
We all know the numbers. And we know that four primary hazards—what we know as our Focus Four—account for about 60 percent of construction fatalities every year. We need to continue to focus these well-known hazards—falls, struck-by, caught between, and electrocutions – to drive down the number of construction workers who are injured or killed on the job. The fact is that we all can and need to do more.
At OSHA, we have a vision of safety and health established 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 all hold our families' health and safety as a fundamental, core value. Yet, despite this being a core personal value for most people, too often, we do not apply 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 the health and safety 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. We want every worker to have a good job and we know that no job is a good job if it is not safe.
Today there will be discussions on several important topics that directly affect the health and safety of construction workers.
One of those is COVID-19, which has been the occupational health issue of our time. OSHA has been working across many fronts to protect workers. You will hear about that work from the Directorate of Standards and Guidance and the Office of the Solicitor.
Scott Ketcham will discuss the Focus Four Hazards and infrastructure, in addition to providing a general construction update. Part of his update there will be a discussion about the occupational hazard of heat.
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 look forward to getting updates from you on infrastructure; education, training, and outreach; the emerging and current issues.
These are important topics and necessary for all of us to address, especially with the potential impact of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This Act will bring $550 billion of new spending on construction projects to cities and rural areas across the country. It will impact everything from our airports and rail lines to expanding our internet technologies. Every American will benefit from the work that will be done through this infrastructure bill. And, of course, the many new good jobs that will be added to the economy will benefit many families for generations to come.
This is truly a transformational moment in history, and we know that OSHA and the ACCSH will play a critical role in keeping those workers safe so they can do their jobs.
While we work to protect today's workers, our efforts to look over the horizon and identify the emerging issues and trends in risks, hazards, and protections in the future is extremely important. We are interested in your expertise and thoughts on that.
And, of course, education, training, and outreach is an essential part of what we do. Yes, we enforce standards and use every tool available to us to ensure that business owners and employers are adhering to the standards in providing safe work environments. But we also want to reach out to underserved worker communities to make sure they know they have the right to safe and healthful work conditions. We want to help educate and train those business owners and employers who want to do the right thing for their workers but need a bit of assistance and guidance.
We want every business to have good and effective safety and health management systems in place to protect their workers – every day and every shift. We have resources available for that, as well as for enforcement. We want to use all the tools available to us to help protect workers.
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 available options 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.
To help us make this vision become a reality, we are working to rebuild the agency's workforce from record low staffing levels and hiring staff that reflects the diversity of the employers and employees we serve. OSHA has hired more than 270 people since August. This includes more than 150 inspectors and more than 30 whistle blower investigators. We are also hiring Compliance Assistance Specialists.
We are committed to working with all stakeholders, like all of you, on emerging threats and workplace hazards that have been historically overlooked such as heat, workplace violence, and suicides.
As the head of OSHA, one of my duties—and it is a deeply somber and solemn one—is to sign condolence letters to the families of workers who died on the job. These letters go to people who lost a spouse, a child, a sibling, or other relative. These letters are written to provide a bit of comfort by letting the family members know that OSHA is committed to investigating the case and answering their questions about why their loved one died.
It is not unusual to sign dozens of these letters each week. That is because about 13 people die on the job on average every day. As I mentioned a few moments ago, we can and must do more to protect workers.
We want every worker to be able go to work each day and return home at the end of their shift. Every worker deserves that and to be able to retire at the end of their careers physically able to play with their grandkids, enjoy time with their friends, and do whatever else they worked so hard to do.
I know that all of you know share that vision with me. Again, thank you for your investment in this important work, for sharing your time and expertise with us, and for helping us make safety and health a core value in every workplace in America.