Remarks Prepared For Delivery By
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
Portland Cement Association
Board of Directors Fall Meeting
Monday, Oct. 26, 2009
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you this morning about the direction of OSHA under the current administration here in Washington.
I'm grateful for the invitation from your regulatory affairs director, Tom Harman, on behalf of your chairman, Enrique Escalante, and your president, Brian McCarthy.
I know you're eager to hear about the future of OSHA, the new leadership in the Department of Labor, and the impact on your industry.
To lead OSHA under the new administration, President Barack Obama has nominated a distinguished scientist at George Washington University, David Michaels. David not only has an impressive academic record, but also has led the worker health and safety program at the Department of Energy. At DOE, he was the father of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which has provided billions of dollars to Cold War veterans who contracted cancer and other diseases while building this nation's nuclear arsenal.
I know David well. We've been friends for many years and I'm confident that he will bring to OSHA a valuable insight into the role of science in the regulatory process.
David's appointment is awaiting confirmation by the Senate. Meanwhile, OSHA is moving forward with an aggressive agenda.
It was suggested that I speak to you about "OSHA's Top Three Priorities Over The Next Few Years." On one level, it's clear that throughout nearly 40 years as a federal regulatory agency, OSHA has had a single, consistent priority: To protect our Nation's working men and women from workplace injuries and illnesses.
Over the years, improvements in workplace safety in our Nation have been earned mostly through tragedies - enacting reforms after workers have died on the job. In the 21st century, we need to move from reaction to prevention. This approach is very much on the mind of the new leadership in DOL and in OSHA as we take note that more than 5,000 people continue to die on the job in America every year.
Soon after I arrived at OSHA, I did something largely symbolic but nevertheless important to underscore our priority. In OSHA's main conference room in Washington, D.C., the prior administration filled one entire wall with photos of OSHA staff managers — headquarters and field. As pleasant and good-looking as these people are, I replaced their pictures with photos of workers killed on the job. The photos were lent to us by the husbands and wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers of workplace victims.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 charged OSHA with writing and enforcing standards to protect workers with the force of law. We're a regulatory agency first and foremost, and under the Obama Administration we're acting like one. In this sense, it's hardly outlandish when Labor Secretary Hilda Solis declares "There's a new sheriff in town."
As an example of OSHA's renewed emphasis on enforcement, we are establishing a Severe Violator Enforcement Program that will concentrate resources on employers who demonstrate indifference to their OSH Act obligations. Under this initiative, any systemic problems that we find with an employer's safety and health program will trigger additional, mandatory inspections to ensure compliance.
OSHA will react swiftly to troubling trends. Take, for example, the recent Texas Sweep. Texas has the unfortunate distinction of more construction workplace fatalities than any other state. For that reason, we launched a construction safety sweep in Texas in July, bringing inspectors from across the country. Under this initiative, OSHA conducted nearly 900 inspections throughout the state, resulting in close to 1,500 citations and fines totaling almost $2 million.
As you know, even though OSHA's Hexavalent Chromium standards of 2006 exempt all exposures to portland cement, OSHA has stepped up its inspections of workplaces where portland cement is manufactured and where portland cement is used on construction sites. The goal of our enforcement emphasis is to ensure that employers train their workers about hex chrome hazards. We also want to be sure that manufacturers include on their material safety data sheets for portland cement the presence of any trace contaminants of hex chrome and their associated hazards, such as allergic contact dermatitis.
Since 2007, OSHA has conducted more than 1,500 inspections at work sites where portland cement was in use. Most of these inspections were at construction sites, but several dozen others were at manufacturing sites. In all these inspections for portland cement, OSHA cited more than 5,500 violations of safety and health standards and issued almost $5 million in fines for failing to protect workers from hazardous exposures.
I know that the Portland Cement Association is eager to see fewer fines, fewer citations, and fewer injured and ill workers. We've had productive discussions as recently as in January when I was still working on Capital Hill, and I want PCA and OSHA to continue not only to talk but work together effectively to achieve our mutual goals.
This is especially important now, while the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is giving a big boost to infrastructure projects, such as highway, transit and energy construction. I realize that these stimulus projects mean a great deal to cement companies.
The federal stimulus funds have also, necessarily, prompted an increase in OSHA inspections to make sure everyone is following the rules and working safely.
Overall, OSHA is raising the number of worksite inspections to 40,000 a year - increasing our presence where we're needed most.
And... OSHA is hiring. The fiscal 2010 budget calls for recruiting more than 100 new inspectors, more investigators to pursue whistleblower complaints, and more staff to help develop workplace standards for safety and health. Also, Secretary Solis has challenged us to increase OSHA's diversity so that the OSHA of the 21st century will look like, sound like, and come from 21st century America.
Inspections, not surprisingly, can lead to citations if employers don't follow the rules and adequately protect their workers. As part of our re-emphasis on enforcement under the Obama Administration, OSHA is looking at ways to strengthen our penalty program. We're moving in this direction not simply to punish, but to provide a strong incentive for employers to respect their workers, make protection part of their daily operations, and adopt an effective Safety and Health Management System.
In every workplace success story - where a company or industry has made a concerted effort to significantly reduce job-related illnesses and injuries - we find a common element: An effective Safety and Health Management System. These systems succeed, as most of you know, when management and workers are committed and equal partners in workplace safety and health.
State Plan Oversight
When it comes to standards and enforcement, I think that everyone appreciates clarity and consistency, which is why OSHA is moving to strengthen its oversight of State plans. Our goal is for Federal and State OSHA offices to speak with one voice.
Therefore, on August 31, I issued a memorandum to our Regional Administrators, providing interim guidance on State Plan monitoring. The guidance reminds OSHA compliance officers to review and use the monitoring tools available under our current procedures. At the same time, it underscores the importance of our continuing cooperative relationship with our State Plan partners.
States are currently encouraged but not required to adopt OSHA National Emphasis Programs. When one of these programs focuses on an industry that is prevalent in a specific State Plan State, the State usually adopts the program or an equivalent targeting strategy. I have indicated to the States that, in the interest of national consistency, we may require them to adoption future National Emphasis Programs.
Accurate Records, Good Incentives
On October 1, OSHA announced a new National Emphasis Program to confront recordkeeping problems. Congressional hearings, studies and media reports have all described serious accounts of underreporting injuries and illnesses, as well as incentive and discipline programs that discourage workers from reporting when they're sick or hurt.
I can't overemphasize the importance of accurate injury and illness records. OSHA uses these numbers to target inspections, set priorities, and determine whether industries and workplaces are taking adequate action to protect the health and safety of their workers. This is not bureaucratic paperwork; accurate recordkeeping is vital information we all need to save lives.
We will also be taking a close look at incentive programs that have the effect of discouraging workers from reporting injuries and illnesses. These include programs that discipline workers who are injured or safety competitions that penalize individual workers or groups of workers when someone reports an injury or illness. Let me underscore this point: OSHA will not tolerate programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses.
With a renewed emphasis on standards writing and enforcement, it's logical for enlightened business to ask, "Where does this put OSHA's cooperative programs?"
One of the first things I did this spring after walking through the door at OSHA was to tell our field staff that we were abolishing the quotas that the previous administration had set for racking up new participants in the Voluntary Protection Program and Alliances. It's not that we shouldn't be recognizing those companies and associations who are going beyond the basic requirements to make workplaces safe — we should support the best of the best.
However, while workers continue to die by the thousands across our Nation every year, OSHA's priority must be those employers who continue to cut corners and put their workers' lives at risk.
Secretary Solis and I wish that every single business and agency across our Nation would voluntarily achieve levels of workplace safety that not only comply with OSHA standards, but also far exceed them. That's wishful thinking... because, despite OSHA's efforts to recognize the best workplaces and hope that others will follow their example, other kinds of incentives are needed to get the attention of thousands of employers who still consider worker injuries simply the cost of doing business. Well, under this administration, that's not a deduction we're willing to allow.
So, as Secretary Solis has said, OSHA is back in the standards writing business and back in the enforcement business.
Standards And Guidance
Since January, OSHA has accelerated its efforts to develop long-awaited standards addressing hazardous exposure to silica, beryllium, and food flavorings containing diacetyl.
In August, we published a direct final rule for acetylene hazards.
In September, we issued a final rule updating the personal protective equipment consensus standards. Last month, we also proposed aligning OSHA's standards with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Hazardous Chemicals.
Earlier this month, we revised our enforcement policies for fall protection during steel erection, and just last week we published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to protect workers from combustible dust explosions.
In the coming months, this administration is committed to publishing a cranes and derricks standard and a final rule for confined spaces in construction.
Taking a longer view, this administration is going to look for ways to fix fundamental problems in the way we create standards and the way we enforce them. For example, if we're going to move ahead on more and better standards, OSHA needs to find ways to streamline the cumbersome, lengthy rulemaking process.
Training and Education
Because safe jobs are OSHA's priority, OSHA advocates more and better training in occupational safety and health. Providing workers and employers with the knowledge they need to ensure safe working conditions is the best way to prevent workplace tragedies. In this sense, the adage holds true: Knowledge is power.
Because the Portland Cement Association takes great pride in promoting worker training, I know you are with me on this strategy.
Last month (Sept. 18), OSHA awarded more than $6.8 million in Susan Harwood Training Grants to 30 recipients, including labor unions, employer associations, colleges and universities, and other nonprofit organizations. The training grants provide two years of support for the recipients' activities on behalf of our Nation's workforce.
The grants support workplace safety and health programs that educate workers and employers in industries with high hazard and fatality rates, workers with limited English proficiency, hard-to-reach workers and supervisors, and small business employers.
A good example of this year's Harwood Grant projects is a $250,000 award to the Construction Safety Council. The council will develop training materials, in plain English and Spanish, addressing health hazards found on most construction sites. The materials will be used to teach new trainers how to train others on how to stay safe on the job.
This year, OSHA received a record 345 applications, and soon after Congress approves our next budget, we will launch a new round of worker training grants.
Meanwhile, OSHA is continuing to strengthen the integrity of its Outreach Training Program by improving how trainers become authorized to teach and by ensuring that these trainers are in compliance with OSHA guidelines. To crack down on fraudulent trainers, the agency recently published an "Outreach Trainer Watch List" of those who have had their trainer authorizations revoked or suspended.
On the Portland Cement Association's Web site, you proudly promote concrete's versatility and use in green buildings for sustainable designs. Along these lines, I would love to see this association, on its home page, give equal prominence for your dedication to sustaining your workers' safety and health. When you take pride in this, people will notice.
I'm pleased to see the association promote its Innovations in Safety Awards, honoring projects that improve worker safety at cement plants. I urge you: Give these awards more prominence - on your Web site, in your newsletters, in business meetings and at public events. Make a big deal of these awards, because protecting your workers is very much a big deal.
Encourage your member companies to promote worker safety on their Web sites - right up front, on their home pages. This communicates to workers that management is genuinely committed to keeping them safe and healthy, and it reminds middle management that upper management regards worker safety as a priority.
Caution your members: Workplace safety and health can be endangered during a recession, especially when businesses are struggling to cut costs and maintain productivity with fewer workers. When workers are asked to take on extra duties, put in longer hours, or work at a faster pace, they will experience increased stress and fatigue. They will feel pressured to cut corners on safety and health procedures to get the job done. Training is cut and preventive maintenance is often deferred. However, let's be very clear: Even in a recession, skimping on safety and health requirements is a shortcut to disaster.
Remind your members: Know what to do about the flu. They need to establish plans to protect their workers and their businesses against the spread of pandemic influenza. OSHA's Web site offers downloadable guidance documents, QuickCards and other resources to help employers and workers develop a plan to sustain operations.
Words and Action: Let's continue to work together, then, to impress upon this industry the maxim that worker safety is no accident. Let's find ways to boost education and training in the industry and compliance at every worksite - so that every morning, at every breakfast table in the home of every worker in your industry, healthy and safe workers are seated with their families.