Presented ToNational Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health Meeting
As prepared for delivery
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health
June 22, 2021
Thank you, Andy. And thank you everyone for convening this meeting of NACOSH and for the opportunity to be with you today.
In order to be the leading voice in workplace safety and health, OSHA needs to hear from experts in the field who represent our wide range of stakeholders.
That’s why the advisory committees are so important, and I’m very pleased to join you today, to hear your views, see your recommendations, and work with you to make workplaces across the country safer and more healthful.
As you know, this year, we are commemorating 50 years since OSHA first 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 this advisory committee and the organizations and groups that have been represented here over the years.
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 are all meeting today.
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.
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.
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.
In addition to the ETS, OSHA has other regulatory activities in the works.
The Spring 2021 regulatory agenda reflects the Administration’s priorities with a renewed focus on improving working conditions related to workplace safety and health.
OSHA has added several items to the regulatory agenda, including a rulemaking on Heat Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings.
Illness from exposure to heat is preventable, but every year, thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some cases are fatal. OSHA is initiating work to increase the tools available for the agency to address this hazard.
Our heat illness prevention campaign builds awareness of prevention strategies and tools for employers and employees to reduce occupational heat illness.
We have been updating the campaign to recognize both indoor and outdoor heat hazards, as well as the importance of protecting new and returning workers from hazardous heat.
As noted in the Spring Regulatory Agenda, OSHA plans to issue a Request for Information on this topic.
We want to use the RFI to initiate a dialogue on preventing occupational heat illness through regulatory approaches for managing exposure to hazardous heat.
We also intend to form a NACOSH work group to help engage stakeholders and better understand current best practices and challenges in occupational heat illness prevention.
This includes how to define hazardous heat exposure across a variety of industries in order to help the agency decide how to address this important topic.
OSHA staff will talk with you later in the meeting about this in more detail, as well as solicit your input on developing the charge for the work group.
These and the other activities outlined in the Spring 2021 regulatory agenda emphasize OSHA’s renewed commitment to workplace safety and health, and serve as an important step in returning the agency to its core mission of ensuring that all workers in every workplace have the health and safety protections they need and deserve.
OSHA Priorities in Biden Administration
It is important that as we take steps to address the pandemic and a myriad of other issues facing workplaces, we are fully engaging with all of our stakeholders to address their needs, share their best practices, and get their help sharing our information and resources with audiences we may not be able to reach ourselves.
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 are entitled to the very same protections as anyone else, 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 are committed to re-establishing strong relationships with victim’s families. We have met with the United Support & Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF) and family members to discuss their experiences and how we can support them as they seek answers about what happened to their loved ones.
Unfortunately, every day there are new families who lose a loved one to a workplace tragedy. These families may not be familiar with their rights or OSHA’s role in the investigation of their loved one.
We will be meeting with families on a regular basis so they can share their concerns and ideas, and learn more about OSHA processes.
No one deserves to be in their position, and we owe it to them to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We also need to listen to them and help to learn from their experiences.
We want families to know that OSHA is here to support them throughout the inspection process and beyond.
We also have to make sure the agency has the resources necessary to build back better to achieve its mission and help prevent workplace fatalities and serious injuries and illnesses.
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.
Due to the June 18, 2021 federal holiday, the grant funding opportunities were ‘withdrawn’ from the Federal Register. We will republish the grant funding opportunities and new application deadlines this week in the Federal Register. Please continue to check OSHA’s website for new information.
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.
More information is available on our website. Please help us share these grant opportunities as broadly as possible.
In closing, thank you again for inviting me to join you today.
I am glad that the group is convening and look forward to working with you on the issues impacting workplace health and safety now and as we look to the future. We value your participation on this advisory committee and we value the input from NACOSH to the agency and the department.
I’ll now turn it back over to Andy, and am happy to take some questions.