Speaker(s)Dr. David Michaels
As prepared for delivery by
Dr. David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
Thursday, June 18, 2015
I'd like to begin by welcoming everyone -- those here with us in the room and those who are participating by phone and Webex.
You play a very important role in representing the interest of the public, employers, employees and the states and advising OSHA and the Department of Labor.
Thank you for your work and your service. Together, we have made great progress in protecting workers. But there's more work to do.
Every year, employers record more than three million serious injuries on their OSHA log. And we know that is an underestimate.
Several studies have shown that many, and perhaps even most work-related injuries are not recorded by employers, so the actual number of workers injured each year is likely to be far higher. And another 4,500 workers are killed every year on the job.
Why do we accept that there are millions of worker injuries each and every year?
This is a huge toll on the nation -- and I believe because it is workers, somehow it is acceptable.
When is the last time a corporate executive was fired after a worker was was killed on the job? It just doesn't happen.
A worker dies and the police investigate and say -- it was an accident. By that, they mean it wasn't intentional. It wasn't murder. But it also suggests that it was something random and unpreventable.
But these deaths, these injuries are predictable and preventable.
Work injuries and illnesses can have a devastating effect. According to the National Safety Council, workplace injuries and fatalities cost our economy $198.2 billion each year.
But these injuries and illnesses are not only detrimental to business -- they can also force working families out of the middle class and into poverty, and crush a family's hope of entering the middle class.
For many workers and their families, a workplace injury creates a trap which leaves them less able to save for the future or to make investments in skills and education that provide the opportunity for advancement.
This directly hampers the ability of many working families to realize the American Dream.
OSHA has detailed this problem in our report "Adding Inequality to Injury".
Most of us think that when a worker gets hurt on the job, they are made whole by the workers' compensation system. The reality, however, is that the costs of workplace injury and illness are actually borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported safety-net programs.
And now in many states we see a race to the bottom. State legislatures have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the payments for the lost wages and medical expenses that they deserve.
In fact, there are so many barriers to getting adequate benefits through state workers' compensation programs that a sizable portion of eligible workers never even apply.
In all, workers' compensation payments cover only about 21 percent -- a small fraction -- of lost wages and medical costs of work injuries and illnesses.
Workers and their families now end up paying for nearly 63 percent of these costs out of pocket and taxpayers shoulder the remaining 16 percent.
Tragically, many injured workers end up on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicare, which means taxpayers subsidize the dangerous employers who refuse to take the necessary steps to prevent their workers from being seriously injured.
The number of SSDI beneficiaries and the amount of benefits paid by that program has grown dramatically in recent years. And, at least part of the growth in SSDI benefit payments can be attributed to work injuries and illnesses.
The state-based workers' compensation system is inadequate for the average worker and it performs even more poorly for low-wage workers, and especially the most vulnerable in the workforce.
Many of these workers never apply for workers' compensation benefits; afraid they will lose their job, don't know their rights, or have a limited command of English.
And the challenges are even greater for those with work related illnesses. Few workers with occupational illnesses receive any benefits from the workers' compensation system. One study estimates that as many as 97 percent of these workers are uncompensated.
This is partially because many cases of work-related chronic disease are never diagnosed as work-related. Often when a linkage is made, the diagnosis generally comes long after employment ends.
Even when a proper diagnosis is made, a worker who is eligible for benefits under Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans' Benefits or private insurers is more likely to take that route. They do this because it is easier than obtaining benefits through state workers' compensation programs.
Important changes in the very structure of the employment relationships are also fueling this problem. In many workplaces, work is increasingly being performed by contractors, subcontractors, employees of staffing agencies, or often a combination of all of these.
Unless properly managed, these changes greatly increase risk of injuries and illnesses among all the workers in these workplaces, and further contribute to the issue of income inequality.
Too often employers do not provide these workers with the same protections or training as permanent employees. And too often employers of different workers at the same worksite fail to communicate about the presence of hazards, therefore endangering some or all the workers at the site.
New tools are needed to address these changes in employment relationships - that's why your work on this issue is so important.
There is no doubt in my mind that all of these deaths, injuries and illnesses are preventable. And we know that addressing the se
rious problem of growing income inequality in this country means doing more than just raising the minimum wage.
As important as that is; we also have to make our workplaces safer.
Compliance Not Always Enough
Compliance with OSHA standards are the minimum requirement, but oftentimes employers must go beyond what is legally required in order to effectively protect their employees.
We don't have specific standards for every workplace hazards. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is killer whales. Working with killer whales can be very hazardous, but there is no killer whale OSHA standard. But it's no secret that killer whales can be dangerous -- the name alone gives it away. (And using our General Duty Clause, we issued citations to SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Inc. in Orlando, Florida, in 2010, after a trainer was killed by a killer whale.) Moreover, many of our standards, especially our chemical exposure standards, are outdated and inadequately protective.
When employers focus primarily on complying with regulations, they develop a static, rigid safety culture, rather than one that is dynamic and constantly learning and improving, able to respond to changing conditions and hazards.
It's OSHA's job to help employers with dysfunctional safety cultures become compliant, and to help employers with compliant cultures become exemplary.
Changing the Way We Do Business / Reporting
This January, OSHA changed the way we do business.
Before 2015, employers only had to report to OSHA work related fatalities or incidents where three or more workers were hospitalized.
But we have seen that when we inspected after these tragic events, that these worksites -- the worksites reporting a fatality -- often had previous serious injuries and amputations that we had never known about.
These were red flags that there were serious hazards in this workplace that needed to be prevented.
As you know, on January 1st, OSHA changed the requirements for all employers we cover.
Employers must now report -- in addition to all work related fatalities -- every work related hospitalization, amputation and loss of an eye.
In the first 5 1/2 months, we have already received more than 5,400 reports. We are triaging every call and initiating inspections in about 34% -- but we are engaging with every employer.
We are working with employers in new and different ways. For those employers that we are not inspecting, we expect them to conduct an investigation and let us know what changes they will make to prevent further injuries.
Employers blame too many injuries on "careless workers" when we know the real cause of most incidents in which a worker is hurt is the presence of an unabated hazard.
Too often we see employers blaming workers for being injured when that very employer has failed to provide protective equipment or guards or failed to train their workers in safe work practices.
We have to make sure employers know that injuries are not the worker's fault -- and that the employers are responsible for preventing injuries. That's what the law says.
Investigating a worksite incident -- a fatality, injury, illness, or close call -- provides employers and workers the opportunity to identify hazards in their operations and shortcomings in their safety and health programs.
Most importantly, it enables employers and workers to identify and implement the corrective actions necessary to prevent future incidents.
Incident investigations that focus on identifying and correcting root causes, not on finding fault or blame, also improve workplace morale and increase productivity by demonstrating an employer's commitment to a safe and healthful workplace.
Incident investigations are often conducted by a supervisor, but to be most effective, these investigations should include managers and employees working together, since each bring different knowledge, understanding and perspectives to the investigation.
In conducting an incident investigation, the team must look beyond the immediate causes of an incident. It is far too easy, and often misleading to conclude that carelessness or failure to follow a procedure alone was the cause of an incident.
To do so fails to discover the underlying or root causes of the incident and, therefore, fails to identify the systemic changes and measures needed to prevent future incidents.
When a shortcoming is identified, it is important to ask why it existed and why it was not previously addressed.
- If a procedure or safety rule was not followed, why was the procedure or rule not followed?
- Did production pressures play a role, and, if so, why were production pressures permitted to jeopardize safety?
- Was the procedure out-of-date or safety training inadequate? If so, why had the problem not been previously identified, or, if it had been identified, why had it not been addressed?
These examples illustrate that it is essential to discover and correct all the factors contributing to an incident, which nearly always involve equipment, procedural, training, and other safety and health program deficiencies.
Addressing underlying or root causes is necessary to truly understand why an incident occurred, to develop truly effective corrective actions, and to minimize or eliminate serious consequences from similar future incidents.
Working with the National Safety Council, we have developed tools for the employers to use to get to the root causes of the incident.
Thank you to Jim Johnson and NSC for being a great partner in helping employers investigate these incidents and rid their workplaces of potential hazards.
When employers say an injury was a worker's fault, an inspection will likely take place. Employers need to realize, in the words of James Reason "human error is a consequence, not a cause. Errors are shaped by upstream workplace and organizational factors... only by understanding the context of the error can we hope to limit its reoccurrence." (Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents, 1997)
Now, these new reporting requirements enable us to work with many employers we previously had no contact with. In many cases, we didn't even know they existed.
By establishing a relationship with all employers who report these severe injuries, and by encouraging them to investigate the incidents in which the worker was hurt, I believe we will make a huge difference
We are hearing about issues and getting to workplaces we never heard about or got to before.
Value of Injury Reports
Our field staff are already using data from the Severe Injury Reporting Program to focus their life-saving activities.
For example, the Pittsburgh area office received a telephone referral from an employer reporting an employee's amputation of the left index fingers while he was operating a large circular saw at a sawmill in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.
The Area Office conducted an on-site inspection and found that the 52 inch blade of the saw was not guarded. We also found incidents of inadequate guarding of other machinery and evidence of poor housekeeping practices and possible build-up of wood dust around electrical equipment.
The company accepted the citations.
As part of the enhanced abatement in the settlement agreement the company will retain a qualified Safety Consultant to assist in the writing of a safety and health program that addresses the hazards at the work place and to train company managers concerning the applicable OSHA standards.
Given the remote location of this company, it is likely that absent the new reporting requirement, OSHA would never have known of the hazards at this workplace.
In Texas, our Houston North area office became aware of a trio of incidents including the electrocution death of one worker and serious injuries to two others after a storm went through East Texas in April.
Under the old rules, employers didn't have to call OSHA unless there was a fatality. With the new rules in place, OSHA can spot trends more quickly and intervene with resources and suggestions.
As a result, this office was able to begin warning local businesses about electrical and other dangers of storm repair. This quick response may have very well saved another worker's life or prevented more workers from getting injured.
These are just two of the many success stories we've seen so far as a result of the new reporting rules. But the successes haven't been limited to our field work. We've also reacted quickly to new information here in the National Office as well.
We developed a new fact sheet on hazards from food slicers and meat grinders used in grocery stores, restaurants and delis based on information we saw in initial reports from the new requirements.
These machines can cause serious cuts and amputations when workers are using, maintaining or cleaning them. In 2013, at least 4,000 incidents involving meat slicers occurred that resulted in lost workdays.
This is an issue we likely would not have seen without the new reporting requirements and now, because we did see it, there is a resource to help employers protect workers from these hazards.
Going forward, we are looking at how to code these reports in a way that will help us continue to identify trends and help employers protect their workers.
Injury and Illness Prevention Programs
And the work that you are doing on this committee to help us improve our guidance to employers on protecting temporary and contract workers is invaluable.
Comprehensive injury and illness prevention programs, characterized by high level management commitment and active participation by workers, are necessary to successfully prevent work injuries and illnesses.
These programs are not new; 34 states and many nations already have requirements or voluntary guidelines for workplace injury and illness prevention programs.
Most successful injury and illness prevention programs are based on a common set of key elements.
The basic idea behind these programs is to change the workplace culture. It involves developing a process to figure out where the hazards are and fix them.
This OSHA initiative involves outreach and education on the benefits of these programs. We have a website with resources to help employers establish these programs in their workplaces.
OSHA is updating its 1989 Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines, building on lessons learned about successful approaches and best practices under OSHA programs such as the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).
Your work on developing recommended practices for protecting temporary workers and contract workers within an injury and illness prevention program will also help guide this effort. I thank you for your work on this important issue and look forward to receiving your recommendations.
The primary audience for the guidelines is small business and workers who need a straightforward, proactive way to find and fix workplace hazards.
We expect the updated Guidelines and tools to be published on our website in the Fall of 2015.
Injury and illness prevention programs work in enterprises of all sizes and in every industry. The keys to success are management commitment to safety, and workers who are empowered to participate.
Injury and illness prevention programs are critical to driving injury, illness, and fatality rates down and ensuring that workers are able to go home safe at the end of every shift.
These programs also help businesses save money. When employees feel protected, morale goes up, and both performance and profitability increase.
Together, we can share the message of how investing in safety and health is good for workers and businesses.
Oil and Gas
As our nation moves toward energy independence and develops our important natural resources, OSHA is collaborating with the oil and gas industry to protect the safety and health of workers in that sector.
In 2003, the National Service, Transmission, Exploration and Production Safety Network was founded in South Texas by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and industry to share best practices in oil and gas safety and health.
Since then, the organization has expanded to 22 independent networks serving 15 oil and gas producing states.
At the Oil and Gas Safety and Health Conference in Houston, December 2014, OSHA entered an Alliance with the National STEPS Network.
The purpose of the Alliance is to work collaboratively to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities among workers in the upstream oil and gas industry.
Through the alliance, the participants will develop fact sheets and videos on the leading causes of fatalities in oil and gas exploration and production, provide OSHA materials and training resources for employers and workers, and support oil and gas safety stand-downs
The first product of the OSHA - National STEPS Network Alliance was the publication of an infographic, Tank Hazard Alert: Gauging, Thieving, Fluid Handling, in April, 2015.
The purpose of the alert is to provide educational information to workers involved in these activities so that they may learn how to recognize and avoid hazards associated with these activities.
The May 29 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report provided an analysis of occupational fatalities during the oil and gas boom in the United States.
During 2003 - 2013, the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry experienced unprecedented growth, doubling the size of its workforce and increasing the number of drilling rigs by 71%.
During this same period, the number of work-related fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry increased 27.6%; however, the fatality rate significantly decreased 36.3%.
Collaboration between industry, government, and academia might have contributed to improved safety for workers and likely should continue to drive the fatality rate further down.
In February 2015, OSHA issued an RA memorandum to authorize the addition of upstream oil and gas hazards to the list of High-Emphasis Hazards in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
This policy is targeted to upstream oil and gas drilling and well servicing employers based on their industry's significant worker fatality rate over time.
Over the last twenty years, upstream operations have experienced a fatality rate that has ranged from five to eight times greater than the national average for all U.S. industries.
We are using all the tools in our bag to help address the high fatality rate in the upstream industry. We've employed significant compliance assistance resources, but we also continue to utilize our enforcement tools and SVEP is one of those tools.
By focusing SVEP on upstream employers, we believe that more employers will be deterred from unsafe conditions at their worksites, which in turn will help address the industry fatality rate in a positive manner.
Chemical Safety EO
Following the deadly explosion in West, Texas in April 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.
The Department of Labor was tasked, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency, to serve as tri-chairs of the working group to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities across the country
Last June, the working group released a status report to the president, which summarized the Working Group's progress to that point.
Last year's status report was a milestone, not an end-point.
Last week, we released another update to highlight actions that have been taken since the release of the report last year.
Several actions related to Process Safety Management were highlighted in the update, including:
- Initiating a SBREFA panel to get feedback from small businesses on improvements we are considering for the PSM standard.
- Revising current interpretation of chemical concentrations covered by the PSM standard
- Clarifying what is covered and aligning with better established practices.
- Revising the current interpretation of "retail facilities" to more accurately reflect original intent of exemption.
Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill due to working in the heat. About one-third of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, but outdoor workers in every field -- including agriculture, landscaping, transportation, and oil and gas operations -- are susceptible to the dangers of heat.
In 2011, we launched a partnership with NOAA and the National Weather Service to educate employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. As a result, important worker safety information is now included in all National Weather Service extreme heat alerts and on NOAA's Heat Watch Page.
We also worked with the National Weather Service to develop a smartphone heat safety app that allows users to calculate risk levels at a worksite and learn the protective measures needed to prevent heat illness.
This spring we released a new version of the app for Apple devices, with full screen color alerts, improved navigation and accessibility options. This improved version let you know instantly if you are in a high risk zone due to heat and humidity -- and precautions that need to be taken to prevent heat-related illness.
More than 200,000 people have downloaded the app so far.
The apps are available through our website, at http://www.osha.gov/heat, where you can also find fact sheets, training manuals, community posters, and more in English and Spanish.
Our safety message to workers comes down to three simple, but important, words: Water. Rest. Shade.
Employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive heat. This means providing regular breaks for workers so they can cool down, and ensuring regular access to water so workers can stay hydrated.
If these precautions are taken, it can mean the difference between life and death.
I also want to let you know about how the Labor Department is taking the lead to implement President Obama's executive order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces. The Executive Order, issued last summer, requires prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations-including OSHA violations.
Taxpayer dollars should not reward corporations that break the law. With this executive order the President is helping ensure that all hardworking Americans get the fair pay and safe workplaces they deserve.
One of the goals of this order is to give companies who have violated the law a chance to let the government know how they abated hazards or mitigated the violations. Companies with labor law violations will be offered the opportunity to receive early guidance on whether those violations are potentially problematic so that they can remedy any problems.
Again -- we don't want to bar companies from federal contracts -- we want to make sure every company with a federal contract treats their workers fairly.
We are working closely with the Wage and Hour Division and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to implement this executive order.
On May 27, the Department issued proposed guidance to assist contracting agencies and the contracting community in applying the order's requirements.
The comment period on this proposed guidance is open for 60 days, until July 27, 2015. We are eager to know what you think, so please submit your comments.
In our continued efforts with the USDA to protect the health and safety of poultry processing workers, we developed a new poster (in English and Spanish) detailing these workers' rights to report injuries and illnesses sustained on the job.
USDA is sending these posters to poultry processing plants across the country.
Worker Voice / It's the Law
And on April 28th, Workers' Memorial Day, OSHA unveiled a new version of the "OSHA: It's the Law" poster that employers must prominently display in their workplace.
This poster will reach workers and employers every day and it reinforces our message about prevention: employees have the right to request an OSHA inspection of their workplaces, receive information and training on job hazards, report a work-related injury or illness, and raise safety and health concerns with their employer or OSHA without being retaliated against.
It also informs employers of their legal obligation to provide a safe workplace -- and that means eliminating the hazards that injure, sicken, or sometimes even kill their workers.
The poster was updated to include the new reporting obligations for employers. And it emphasizes a very important principal when it comes to prevention -- that every worker has a voice.
Workers must be allowed to speak up about health and safety hazards and to advocate for the safety of themselves and their co-workers.
Thank you again for your service in advising OSHA and the Department of Labor. The work of this committee is very important in helping us meet the challenges we face in protecting the safety and health of workers all across the country.