Presented ToOn-site Consultation Training Conference
As prepared for delivery
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
On-site Consultation Training Conference
June 21, 2021
Thank you, Doug. And thank you to Garrett and all OSHCON members for everything you do to help improve workplace health and safety across the country.
Thank you for inviting me to meet with you today.
And thank you for your hard work, particularly over the past 15 months as you’ve had to adjust to a new way of doing your work.
When the pandemic began, you adapted to provide virtual visits and to conduct compliance assistance activities addressing COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, you’ve conducted almost 2,500 virtual visits and over 10,000 compliance assistance activities to help keep workers safe.
I know that we are all looking forward to the resumption of on-site activities, including holding events like this in-person again. We are taking steps to get to that point.
Thank you again for making sure that your important work has been able to continue throughout the pandemic. That adaptability is going to remain crucial as we face the challenges that will arise in the years ahead.
As you know, this year, we are commemorating half a century since OSHA opened its doors, on April 28, 1971.
Workplace safety has certainly improved over that half century – and that is thanks in large part to the work of many of you and your programs over the years.
The On-site consultation program has been around almost as long as the agency has existed – since 1975 – and it’s safe to say that your efforts have directly prevented countless workplace injuries and illnesses and saved workers’ lives.
However, there is more work for us to do because there are still too many workers that get hurt or sick, or even die, where that injury or illness could have easily been prevented.
This is why workplace safety and health is important. This is why OSHA’s mission is so important. It’s why we all do what we do.
And as the pandemic has highlighted, our mission is as important now as at any time in OSHA’s fifty year history.
More than 600,000 people in this country have died from COVID-19, many simply doing what they had to do to provide for themselves and their families.
President Biden’s January 21 Executive Order directed OSHA to take several steps to help protect workers from contracting COVID-19.
Since January, we have taken those steps.
In January, OSHA issued updated, stronger guidance providing a roadmap to help businesses decrease risk and improve worker safety, so they can re-open and stay open, safely.
On March 12th, we issued a national emphasis program for COVID-19 and revised our approach to focus our enforcement efforts on companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus, as well as employers that retaliate against workers for complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions. We also began prioritizing getting CSHOs onsite during inspections.
Since January, we have also considered and issued an emergency temporary standard, which was published today in the federal register.
The science tells us that healthcare workers, particularly those who come into regular contact with people either suspected of having or being treated for COVID-19, are most at risk.
That’s why the emergency temporary standard is focused on healthcare settings, and is tailored to cover the workers most likely to come into contact with someone carrying the virus. This includes hospitals, nursing homes, emergency responders, and other high-risk areas in healthcare settings.
Throughout the pandemic, healthcare workers in these settings continue to be the source of the highest number of complaints OSHA has received and continues to receive.
The standard exempts certain medical facilities that are able to pre-screen patients and reschedule those who are symptomatic.
The ETS includes measures familiar to most Americans at this point in the pandemic, such as physical distancing, masks, and paid medical removal (akin to paid sick leave).
It uses a layered approach to better ensure gaps or weaknesses in any single approach do not result in an infection, and it closely follows CDC guidance for healthcare workers.
Information about the ETS, including Fact Sheets, FAQs, and other compliance assistance materials are available on our website at www.osha.gov.
In addition to the healthcare-focused ETS, we have also updated our January guidance, in line with the latest science and shape of the pandemic, to help employers and workers in other industries protect workers who are still not vaccinated.
The updated guidance is also available on our website. Please help us share it as widely as possible. You will hear more on the ETS and updated guidance from Andy Levinson later today.
The pandemic is still evolving and OSHA will continue to monitor vaccination progress, virus variants, and other factors that will guide our continued efforts to ensure workers are protected from the virus while they are on the job.
We will also continue to provide employers with compliance assistance that they need to keep their workers safe and healthy and to implement the ETS.
These are all important steps in making sure that we, as a nation, can effectively defeat COVID-19, that businesses can reopen and remain open safely, and that workers are protected.
OSHA Priorities in Biden Administration
It is important that as we take steps to address the pandemic and the myriad other issues facing workplaces, we are fully engaging with all of our stakeholders to address their needs, share their best practices, and have them help us share our information and resources to audiences we may not be able to reach ourselves.
As ambassadors to small businesses across the country, your role in helping us reach that key stakeholder group is profoundly important.
We have to do everything in our power to prevent worker fatalities and serious injuries and illnesses.
We can best accomplish this by focusing our efforts where they can have the biggest impact. This includes high-hazard workplaces, reducing exposure to hazardous chemicals, and addressing long-standing issues such as falls and heat illnesses.
And as we address the issues of today, we also have to think about the future. While we may not yet know what tomorrow’s hazards will look like, there are basic tenets of workplace safety that will always apply.
Commitment to safety and health from top-level management and supervisors on jobsites is critical. As is the development and continuous improvement of safety and health management systems, with employee involvement.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of employee involvement in developing and implementing a safety and health plan for their workplace. Workers know the job, they are best able to identify hazards, and they are the ones whose health and safety is at risk from unsafe work practices.
It is also important that every worker knows about their rights and is empowered to speak-up about health and safety concerns in their workplace.
Finally, every worker must be provided training in a language they understand.
It’s important that we do everything we can to convey these messages to employers and to workers. And it is equally important that we are reaching ALL workers.
We know that, too often, many workers are left out or forgotten due to their citizenship status, because English isn’t their first language, or because of the color of their skin.
Too often, these workers are not aware of their rights or feel uncomfortable raising safety concerns.
These workers deserve protections too, and we have to do everything in our power to make sure they get them.
OSHA will work with all of our stakeholders to address the issues surrounding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
We also have to make sure the agency has the resources necessary to build back better and achieve its mission.
This includes increasing staffing, particularly the number of OSHA compliance officers, and ensuring that every OSHA employee has the tools necessary to do their job.
This is reflected in the agency’s most recent budget request. We are requesting increases in funding and staff for training, outreach and compliance assistance activities.
We are also requesting a $2,000,000 increase for Susan Harwood Training Grants to cover emerging hazards in a post-pandemic economy, such as increased workplace heat hazards in the face of global climate change.
Last week, we announced the availability of $10 million for Susan Harwood Training Grants on Infectious Diseases, including COVID-19 from the American Rescue Plan funding.
These grants will fund training and education to help workers and employers identify and prevent work-related infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
This funding opportunity is in addition to the more than $11 million in FY 2021 Susan Harwood training grants for Targeted Topic, Training and Educational Materials Development, and Capacity Building that were also announced last week.
Applicants are allowed to apply for and receive both an Infectious Diseases grant and a regular FY 2021 Susan Harwood training grant.
Please go to osha.gov for more information and share these grant opportunities with your network.
You’ll hear more on our efforts to build-up the agency from Kim Locey. I’m happy that we’ve already been able to make some progress and we’ll keep at it until we have the people and resources we need.
In closing, thank you again for inviting me to join you today.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference. You are each a valuable member of the OSHA team.
Thank you for all you do to help small businesses improve their safety and health systems, identify and mitigate hazards, and keep workers healthy and safe!
I’d also like to congratulate those of you being recognized at the awards ceremony on Friday. While recognition isn’t the reason you do this work, it is important that we always take the time to acknowledge the great work that you do.
I’ll now turn it back over to Doug, and am happy to take some questions.