Presented ToRegion 1 OSHA Summit
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
Region 1 OSHA Summit
June 22, 2022
Good morning. I'd like to first thank all of you for your time today to discuss worker safety and health.
Thank you, Dale, for that introduction. Thank you, Galen for the invitation to speak today and be part of this summit. I really appreciate it. You and Jeff are doing great work throughout Region 1.
I also want to thank you and your team and partners—the OSHA Education Center, the American Association of Safety Professionals, and the University of Massachusetts—for putting this summit together. This kind of collaboration is important for workers. It clearly demonstrates a commitment to health and safety that manifests itself in fewer worker injuries and fatalities.
This kind of collaboration and commitment to worker safety and health is really at the heart of our shared vision at OSHA: for health and safety to be established as a core value in every workplace in America. Your time today to discuss and health and safety helps us all see that vision become a reality.
If you ask people what they value most in their life, most will say it is their health, and the health and safety of their loved ones. This is what we all really care about. We hold our families' health and safety as a fundamental, core value. Unfortunately, despite this being a core personal value for most people, too often, too often this value is not applied in 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.
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. Every worker and every worker's family deserve this. Every worker deserves the opportunity to retire at the end of their careers physically able to enjoy time with their grandkids, other family members, and friends and physically able to do whatever it is that they have dreamed and planned for throughout their working year.
Today you will have the opportunity to participate in sessions and discussions that cover a wide variety of topics but that all contribute to our collective ability to help workers realize their dreams by keeping them safe and health in their workplaces.
One of the recent threats to worker safety and those dreams has been COVID-19. COVID-19 has been the occupational health issue of our time. It has impacted every aspect of our lives. These impacts have been felt in all industries and in every workplace. OSHA has been working across many fronts to protect workers. The Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard was a valuable blueprint for how employers can implement procedures to keep workers safe while managing vaccine hesitancy.
That ETS is no longer in place, but we continue to vigorously enforce the general duty clause and our general standards. From January 2021 thru June 2022, OSHA conducted more than 1,800 COVID-19 related inspections in health care facilities and State Plan conducted more than 700 additional inspections.
We will continue to update our guidance based on the latest scientific information. We also continue to work to develop a permanent infectious disease standard to ensure that we are better prepared for any future outbreaks.
Another occupational hazard is heat. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 38 fatalities on average each year from 2011-2019 due to environmental heat exposure. During that same period, there were an average of approximately 2,700 cases with days away from work due to exposure from heat hazards.
Not only is heat an occupational hazard of our time right now, the trends indicate that hazard is increasing in significance. A recent analysis of BLS data found that the three-year average of heat-related fatalities among American works has doubled since the early 1990s and 18 of the last 19 summers have been the hottest on record. More than 900 workers have died from heat-related issues since 1992.
Obviously, protecting workers from heat is critically important, but the trends in temperature and fatalities makes it critically urgent, as well.
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 are excited about the momentum we have in protecting workers from heat hazards. Last October we published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings.
NACOSH convened a heat working group in February this year. Also, we now a National Emphasis Program for heat. This NEP allows us, for the first time, to proactively inspect in 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 allows OSHA to inspect workplaces for heat-related hazards before workers suffer illnesses, injuries, or fatalities.
We know there is a lot of information about this topic and a lot to consider. In fact, I believe that one of the sessions of this summit today is about occupational outdoor heat stress with an update on the regulations and standards. I am sure many of you will join that session and will learn a great deal.
Obviously, enforcement is a key part of our mission at OSHA. We continue to enforce standards that are developed under the authority of the OSHA Act. We continue the work of developing standards, such as the infectious disease and heat standards I've already mentioned, as well as several others. In addition to developing new standards, we are also working to update existing standards, where appropriate. We know that some of our standards are a number of years old and were developed based on technology or processes that may be or is becoming obsolete. This is one of our long-term initiatives that we are working on.
We understand, though, that while enforcement is a critical part of the OSHA mission, we cannot solely enforce our way to safe and healthful workplaces. We must provide businesses with the assistance and tools they need to develop health and safety management programs.
Many employers understand their responsibilities and make every effort to protect workers. Those businesses are the role models. At OSHA, we want to celebrate those businesses that go beyond compliance and highlight their successes.
There are some businesses that, unfortunately, seem to view worker illnesses, injuries, and even fatalities as a cost of business. That is where the majority of our enforcement resources and efforts go.
But the majority of employers are in the middle. They want to protect workers; they want to have safe and healthful work environments. However, they need some training, guidance, or other tools to help them get there. That is where our compliance assistance and cooperative programs are so important. Prevention saves lives, saves from injuries and illnesses, and even helps businesses save money. That's why prevention has to be the goal for all of us.
OSHA provides assistance to more than 200,000 individuals who reach out to us each year by phone or by email. As everyone who work works in the field in OSHA's regional and area offices know, thousands of outreach activities are conducted each year in your offices, as well.
OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program conducts more than 24,000 free on-site visits annually to small and medium size business worksites. The Outreach Training Program trains more than 1 million workers each year. More than 19 million users visit OSHA's webpage each year. More than 368,000 people subscribe to our QuickTakes newsletter, more than 88,000 people subscribe to our Workplace Safety Reminders, and we have more than 34,000 followers on Twitter. The word workplace safety and health from OSHA is readily available and getting out in many ways.
I know that all of you are ambassadors for safety and health and injury prevention in workplaces. I encourage each of you to help us—really, help workers—by sharing the message of compliance assistance. Spread the word about tools and resources that are available to business owners and employers to help them not just comply but go beyond compliance.
To help us realize our vision of safety and health as a core value in every American workplace, we are working to rebuild the agency's workforce from record low staffing levels. We have hired more than 270 people since August. This includes inspectors, compliance assistance specialists, and whistleblower investigators.
As important—if not more important—than the number of people we are hiring is the diversity of people we are hiring. As we rebuild the agency, we know we have to do so in ways that reflects the diversity of the workers and employers we serve.
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. And we all have a role to play in that from OSHA's most senior staff to our newest and all of our partners and stakeholders.
We are committed to working with all stakeholders, like all of you, on current and emerging threats and workplace hazards. We want safety and health to be a priority in every workplace.
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. We can and must do more to protect workers.
We want every worker to have a good job and we know that no job is a good job if it is not safe. We want every worker to be able go to work each day and return home at the end of their shift.
I know that all of you know share that vision with me. Again, thank you for your investment in this important work, for your time today, and for helping us make safety and health a core value in every workplace in America.
I'd be happy to take any questions you may have.