• Information Date
  • Presented To
    Associated Builders and Contractors National Board of Directors Meeting
  • Speaker(s)
    Loren Sweatt

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By
Loren Sweatt
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health

Associated Builders and Contractors

National Board of Directors Meeting
June 25, 2019

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to be with you today, during your legislative week.

It’s nice to be at a meeting where everyone in the room is dedicated to reaching our shared goal of a safe workplace, where every worker goes home safe and sound at the end of each shift. 

As you know, over ninety percent of construction employers (90%) have 20 or fewer employees, the industry typically has high employment turnover rates, and most construction sites are multi-employer worksites. 

This creates a unique set of challenges, and is why OSHA dedicates a great deal of effort and resources to working with stakeholders to address safety and health in the construction industry. 

Great progress has been made toward improving safety on construction worksites in this country.  Nevertheless, this is not the time to take a break, not until the number of work-related injuries and illnesses is zero. 

Balanced Approach

OSHA takes a balanced approach to address workplace safety and health.  Enforcement and compliance assistance are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are complimentary. The overriding principle is to protect workers from illness and injury.

ABC members understand their responsibilities and make every effort to comply with the law.  OSHA is working to improve compliance assistance materials to make them more user friendly.  This includes plain English or translating the documents into a language the worker speaks.  OSHA is also currently working on a video to explain the inspection process and help eliminate some of the misconceptions about an inspection.

Employers who do not comply with the law will continue to see full and fair enforcement.  The expectation is for everyone in OSHA to carry out their duties professionally, respectfully, and by the book.

About half of OSHA’s federal inspections are in the construction industry.  For Fiscal Year 2018, OSHA conducted more than 16,000 construction worksite inspections.  Nearly two-thirds of those inspections were programmed and more than half were conducted as part of the agency emphasis programs for trenching and fall hazards.

Trenching

OSHA noted a dramatic increase in worker injuries and fatalities between 2015 and 2016 from trenching and excavation – incidents that could have been prevented if appropriate precautions were taken and safety rules followed.

As a result, the Agency is focusing its resources to help the construction industry reverse this alarming trend.

OSHA is using traditional enforcement and outreach, as well as On-Site Consultation and other cooperative efforts to remove workers from trenching hazards.

In October, OSHA updated the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation.  New compliance assistance materials were developed; and existing ones have been updated. I encourage you to share these resources.

OSHA has partnered with the construction industry to support annual Trench Safety Stand-Downs over the past 4 years. This year’s events were held last week. I’d like to thank ABC members who participated in the stand-down.

Fall Stand-Down

In May, OSHA hosted the 6th annual National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls. Thank you to all of you that participated.  I had the opportunity to meet with some of your members at an event in Texas.  Throughout that week, millions of workers on thousands of worksites across the world paused during their workday to discuss fall prevention.

In the six years since OSHA began doing stand-down events, nearly 10 million workers have been reached by our message that falls are preventable. These initiatives are a good way to bring attention to fall hazards.  

However, despite these efforts, too many workers continue to die from fatal falls each year. It’s time to move the needle and start to see a decline in fatalities. I am open to your ideas on ways to continue expanding our reach on this campaign.

Suicide Prevention

OSHA is also looking to address the issue of suicide prevention, which I know ABC is working on as part of the Construction Industry Alliance on this topic.

Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, workplaces, and communities.

The agency is looking at ways to work with our federal partners and stakeholders to help shed light on this problem, and find ways to help prevent these terrible incidents from happening.

Last month, OSHA created a new webpage with free and confidential resources to help employers and workers identify the warning signs, and know who and how to call for help.

Thank you for making this information available on the ABC website. Please continue to share this information with your members, and encourage them to share widely within their companies.

Regulatory Agenda

OSHA intends to publish a Request for Information on the silica construction standard to solicit information and data that can help determine if Table 1 should be expanded to include additional construction tasks and dust controls, and reduce the need for employers to conduct exposure assessments. Your expertise and input on this RFI will be extremely valuable. I encourage ABC and its members to provide robust comments once the RFI is published.

An amendment to the final rule on respirator fit-testing is also in the pipeline. OSHA is considering new quantitative fit test protocols that reduce the time required to complete the fit test while maintaining acceptable test sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value. The agency is currently in the process of evaluating these and, if appropriate, will adopt them in appendix A of the standard.

Last week the agency announced the membership for OSHA’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH), as well as an upcoming meeting on July 17 and 18.  I would like to thank Greg Sizemore, ABC’s vice president of health, safety, education and workforce development, for accepting an appointment on the advisory committee. I look forward to working with Greg and the other members over the next two years, on ways to improve safety in the construction industry.

Compliance

Everything OSHA does is about ensuring employers work to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. Prevention saves lives, eliminates injuries, and even helps businesses save money. That’s why prevention has to be everyone’s goal.

It’s very encouraging to see that leadership commitment to workplace safety is a core principle for ABC members. It matters when the message that safety is a priority comes from the top.

Worker involvement is also very important. Workers are usually in the best position to notice hazards when they first appear.  Having workers heavily involved in your company’s safety and health program helps to address hazards quickly, before anyone gets hurt.

The Safe + Sound campaign reinforces the importance of safety and health programs.  Each year, Safe + Sound week encourages employers and workers to host activities and events across the country to promote proactive safety and health programs.

I want to recognize ABC members who have participated in previous years—and I encourage all of your members to join us in this year’s event.  Safe & Sound Week 2019 is scheduled for August 12-18.

The agency’s Cooperative Programs – including the On-Site Consultation Program and VPP –  are excellent ways for employers, workers, and associations to work with OSHA on meaningful safety and health initiatives. I encourage ABC members to consider applying for VPP, or requesting a free on-site consultation.

If you are not on the QuickTakes mailing list, you should consider it. You can sign up on the OSHA website. This free newsletter goes out to more than 255,000 subscribers and provides timely information about agency actions, events, resources, training, and enforcement actions.

Conclusion

Thank you again for inviting me to be here with you today.

It is important to remain vigilant about worker safety at all times – beyond today and this week. Safety must start on day one and be a continuous process. 

It starts with a first step – whether that is a safety meeting, improvements in safety and health programs, or participation in a campaign. 

It then must continue by constantly looking for ways each and every day to make your workplace safer. OSHA is here to help you do just that.

Together we can make a difference, prevent injuries, and save lives. Let’s do all that we can to send every worker home safe and healthy at the end of each and every day. 

Thank you.