• Information Date
  • Presented To
    China International Forum on Work Safety
  • Speaker(s)
    Edwin G. Foulke Jr.
  • Status
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Remarks prepared for delivery by
Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.
Assistant Secretary of Labor
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration

China International Forum on Work Safety
Great Wall Sheraton Hotel
Beijing, China
September 20, 2006



Thank-you for your kind introduction and warm welcome. Administrator Zhao Tiechui, thank you for your invitation to be here. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the important discussions here at the 2006 China International Forum on Work Safety.

I wish to thank the State Administration of Work Safety and the International Labor Organization who have made this Forum possible.

35 years ago President Richard Nixon established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- "OSHA" -- at a time in the United States when the government recognized a need to take a firm leadership role to protect the working men and women in our country. This 35th anniversary year has been a time of reflection and renewal at OSHA as we take stock of what we have learned and accomplished as a government agency charged with a solemn responsibility. It is also a year when we look forward to what we need to do to continue OSHA's life-saving mission on behalf of our citizens.

In the United States, OSHA is the primary agency of the federal government responsible for ensuring the safety and health of private sector employees as well as federal government employees. The workplaces we oversee are diverse -- more than 7 million offices, factories, shipyards, hotels, hospitals, concert halls, and construction sites.

OSHA creates and publishes the national standards for workplace safety and health which businesses and government agencies are obligated by law to follow. That is, OSHA sets the rules with which employers must comply. OSHA also enforces these standards, which means our investigators are authorized to issue notices of violations and OSHA can issue fines. In the most serious cases of workplace fatalities, the federal Department of Justice may criminally prosecute businesses that violate the law.

In addition to creating standards and enforcing regulations, OSHA has a third role, and that is compliance assistance. Workplace health and safety rules can be complex, and it is the duty of the government to help the regulated community understand and comply with these standards. Compliance assistance better protects employees by helping to prevent injuries and accidents from happening in the first place.

Before 1971, no uniform or comprehensive provisions existed in the United States to protect employees against workplace hazards. At the time, job-related injuries accounted for more than 14,000 employee deaths a year. Although the U.S. workforce has more than doubled since 1971, last year the number of workplace fatalities was 5,700. So, progress has been made, even as we all know that one fatality is one too many. There is more to be done, and we are going in the right direction.

In my remarks today I will share with you some of the lessons OSHA has learned over the years as the Agency has worked with employers and employees to reduce occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

Most recently, following two catastrophic events in the United States, the importance of emergency preparedness emerged as an essential element in an overall safety and health plan for any business or agency, regardless of size or level of government.

One event -- the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 -- was a man-made disaster. The other -- a series of storms led by hurricane Katrina -- was a natural disaster. In both cases, and under difficult circumstances, OSHA helped to increase the safety of the thousands of employees involved in the massive recovery efforts.

Five years ago this month, more than 1,000 OSHA employees working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, joined forces with the recovery and demolition crews at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City. In the eight months during which OSHA provided technical assistance and safety and health training, not one life was lost.

In the wake of Katrina and the other hurricanes of 2005, OSHA deployed teams to a recovery site of 90,000 square miles spread over five states to reduce the workplace dangers for rescue, recovery and rebuilding crews. A year later, we are still there. Once again, OSHA was instrumental in preventing illnesses, injuries and fatalities among work crews during this extraordinary recovery effort. OSHA's experience in these two disasters demonstrated some critical lessons in workplace safety and health management:

  • It is essential that every employer develop and implement an emergency response plan to protect employees against catastrophic events, whether man-made or natural. These plans should include procedures for protecting the safety and health of those employees at every worksite who will be first responders in an emergency.

  • From 9-11 and Katrina, we understand that every business should include in its plan procedures to facilitate the arrival of external responders, such as firefighters, medical personnel, and police.

  • And, whether the number of employees at a site is large or small, an employer's emergency response plan should also be coordinated with the plans drawn up by local officials in their communities.

Indeed, the numerous lessons learned from 9/11 and Katrina can be summed up in two words: Be Prepared. OSHA practices this credo every day as we strive to help keep America's workplaces safe and healthful.

Now OSHA and its federal and state partners are engaged in a new national effort -- to prepare an effective, coordinated emergency response to a possible flu pandemic. For nearly a year OSHA has been examining workplace safety and health concerns related to this threat. Committees of OSHA employees have helped develop a group of guidance documents that focus on recognizing and combating the hazards of a pandemic.

When these OSHA documents are published -- which will be very soon -- we will issue news releases and post links to the publications on our website. The guidance documents will suggest changes in workplaces that can reduce the spread of influenza, and recommend procedures that businesses can put in place to help ensure that they can continue to operate during a pandemic.

I am also pleased to share with you another set of workplace safety and health standards that have a global impact, and this should be of particular interest to everyone here concerned about chemical safety.

OSHA has been working with an international committee -- of which China is a distinguished participant -- toward establishing a Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals for workplace hazards.

GHS would create a comprehensive worldwide system for defining chemical hazards, creating processes to classify chemicals, and using uniform labels and safety data sheets to communicate hazard information.

The system will help bring more consistency and clarity to hazardous chemical regulations in the workplace. Employers who use hazard information to protect their employees are often confused by the diverse and sometimes conflicting national and international requirements. So, one of the many benefits of adopting GHS is that it would provide a consistent format for labels and safety data sheets, making the information easier to understand and access when making hazard assessments.

The adoption of GHS would also facilitate international trade by giving employers and employees consistent information about chemicals during their production, transportation, use, and disposal.

A guidance document, available on the OSHA website, summarizes the GHS requirements. With the support of China, the United States and others, we are moving forward with a goal of international adoption by 2008.

This is but one of many chemical safety and health issues of concern to OSHA. Earlier this year OSHA issued a new, stronger standard for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium, and OSHA's staff is continuing work on crystalline silica and beryllium.

In addition, OSHA's long-established standard on Process Safety Management (PSM) contains succinct requirements for the management of hazards associated with the use of highly hazardous chemicals which can be toxic, reactive, flammable or explosive -- or a combination of all. The key provision of PSM is a process hazard analysis which calls for a strict review of what can go wrong, and identification of safeguards employers must implement to prevent hazardous chemical releases and explosions. I believe this leadership effort by OSHA has contributed greatly to an industry that continues to strive for workplace protection.

I would like to devote the remainder of my remarks today to a key message that OSHA has developed and refined with the experience of 35 years of working with employers and employees across the United States. This message is that workplace safety and health add value and contribute to the efficiency and profitability of all workplace enterprises.

When I travel across the United States and speak with many employers, I bring these messages:

  • First: It is their legal responsibility as employers to ensure the safety of their employees;

  • Second: Ensuring workplace safety and health significantly adds to a business' productivity, efficiency and quality.

  • And third: OSHA offers many services and programs to assist and guide employers on the responsible path to occupational safety and health.

In addition to being a legal responsibility for business, ensuring workplace safety also makes good business sense. For many employers, this is an unfamiliar concept.

It is a proven fact that when employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health management system, incidents of injury and illness go down, insurance costs go down, and workers' compensation payments go down. At the same time, employee morale goes up, productivity goes up, competitiveness goes up, and profits go up.

This is a simple and logical equation. Mathematically and economically, this equation shows that for businesses to prosper, employers must invest in employee safety.

In the United States, workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities cost Americans more than $170 billion per year. These costs affect every man, woman and child in the United States -- every employee, every employer and every family member. According to a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, a single workplace accident costs an employee and his or her family on average $8,000 -- out of their own pockets -- often forcing them to dip into savings or default on payments. Taking steps to keep employees safe reduces this spiral of debt.

There is a considerable, direct impact on employers as well. The financial toll of illnesses, injuries and fatalities on the job include medical expenses that must be paid by the employer, the great risk of higher insurance premiums, the added cost of hiring and retraining new employees, and contract penalty fees that an employer is obliged to pay for failing to deliver a service or product on time ? which can easily happen when an employer must slow or suspend business operations following an accident and investigation.

Employers also face lost sales, lower quality services and products due to lower employee morale, which leads to a loss of competitive edge, probably a drop in stock value and unhappy investors. Also, employers who fail to protect employees can expect to pay expensive legal defense fees and government fines.

However, a comprehensive safety program can help an employer save money and improve business.

OSHA's data and 35 years of experience show that companies that implement effective safety and health systems can expect to see their injury and illness rates reduced by 20 percent or more, with increased insurance savings that can be better invested into a business' future. Businesses that engage the assistance of government -- OSHA -- can look forward to cooperative assistance with mutually beneficial outcomes. We see proof of these benefits in the superior performance of companies and organizations operating under OSHA's Alliances with businesses and organizations, with our Strategic Partnerships, and through our Voluntary Protection Programs. For example, worksites that operate under our Voluntary Protection Programs and that implement a comprehensive safety and health management system generally find their injury rates are half their industry average.

Our Voluntary Protection Programs -- "VPP" -- are in fact so successful that the Health and Safety Authority in Dublin and the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland have formalized a collaborative agreement to pilot VPP in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I am very pleased at the progress with this pilot, and I am looking forward to expanding this effort to other nations -- even, perhaps, here in China?

It is only natural to ask, then: "If all the evidence demonstrates that a comprehensive workplace safety and health management system will help a business' productivity, efficiency and quality, why would any employer hesitate to implement a safety program?"

The answer is this: When a business decides to embrace safety and health, there must be a fundamental change in thinking. Beyond following procedures and posting notices to "be careful," employers and employees must make safety and health a central value and a comprehensive component in their daily worklife. This is more than a procedural change; it is a cultural change -- the culture of the workplace.

Today in the United States, more enlightened business leaders are speaking out and insisting that companies cannot be successful without a comprehensive safety and health management system operating in their workplaces.

In the May 10, 2006 issue of Industry Week magazine, the vice president and general manager of DuPont Safety Resources, Jim Forsman, wrote that "safety excellence means business excellence. No company can truly excel until safety becomes a way of life and a way of doing business." By participating in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs, DuPont has learned firsthand the value of safety.

OSHA has many tools available to help employers and employees. They can find these tools by visiting OSHA's website. On our website can be found free fact sheets, guidance documents, pocket guides, posters, and hundreds of other pages of information to show how to keep everyone safe and healthy on the job. OSHA's advice is free. The intention is to help employers develop a comprehensive safety and health program.

Since its creation 35 years ago, OSHA has seen work-related fatalities reduced 60 percent and injuries and workplace illnesses drop 40 percent. This is indeed cause to celebrate, but we all know that the job is not finished. OSHA continues in its efforts to ensure that everyone at work everywhere in our nation is thinking and practicing "safety and health" every day.

In America, we have learned how to practice a multi-phased approach to ensuring workplace safety and health -- by creating standards, practicing strong and fair enforcement, offering opportunities for education and outreach, and providing compliance assistance.

In each of these approaches, OSHA conveys a common message, which is: It is within the power of every employer to keep employees safe and healthy.

This is "the power of prevention," and it is the most enduring and effective lesson OSHA can share with you today, during our 35th anniversary year.