• Information Date
  • Presented To
    National Safety Council 2006 Congress and Expo
  • 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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
Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.

National Safety Council
2006 Congress and Expo
San Diego, California
1:30 p.m. Monday, November 6, 2006

Thank-you for that kind introduction and warm welcome.

OSHA always looks forward to being an active participant each year at this national conference because we enjoy our long and productive relationship with the National Safety Council.

NSC has been around a little longer than OSHA - the Council is 93 years old this year. NSC just gets better over time...

In the few moments I have with you this afternoon, I thought I would tell you a little about OSHA's direction, my own vision for the Agency, an update on our success, and then I want to leave you with a personal challenge...

This has been a significant year for OSHA. It was 35 years ago that President Nixon and Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 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.

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.

Since its creation 35 years ago, OSHA has seen work-related fatalities reduced 60 percent and injuries and workplace illnesses drop 40 percent.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month that for the third year in a row we have seen declines in workplace injuries and illnesses.

So, while progress has been made and we are going in the right direction, there is more to be done. On this point, we can all agree: Even one workplace fatality is one too many.

In the end, OSHA's goal remains simple and direct: We want to see America's working men and women return home each day to their families and friends... safe and sound.

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.

Over the decades, OSHA's image has evolved. When we started out 35 years ago, we were feared and sometimes ridiculed as being out of touch with reality. Some of you here may be old enough to remember the cartoon of "the OSHA cowboy." The cowboy wore a helmet, goggles and a safety belt, and sat on a horse with training wheels to protect the horse from tipping over.

In recent years OSHA has worked hard to leave this image behind as it emphasized the Agency's educational materials, training courses and cooperative programs.

In fact, I have heard people say that OSHA has the best government website in the country. We expect the number of hits to our site to reach one billion by the end of this year.

The employees in OSHA are very proud of all the fact sheets, guidance documents, pocket guides, posters, and hundreds of other pages of free information they have produced to help employers and employees stay safe and healthy on the job.

But OSHA still has an image problem to overcome as the old attitudes persist. A few weeks ago a new cartoon appeared in newspapers around the country. It shows two devils, holding pitchforks, surrounded by flames. One of the devils is reading a memo: "It's from OSHA," he says. "They say we need to install smoke alarms."

I will give you another example that actually happened to me:

I was talking with a businessman a few months ago about all the resources available on the OSHA website. He nodded and agreed that OSHA had a lot of great products and services.

"But I can't visit your site," he said...

I said "Why not?"

"Because," he said, "then you'll know where I am and I'll be targeted for an inspection."

Unfortunately, in 2006 there are still too many people who either fear us for the wrong reasons or who do not think seriously enough about safety.

With working Americans spending almost half their waking hours on the job, it is OSHA's challenge to find ways to persuade every employer and employee to make safety a priority and to understand that they can come to OSHA for help.

That is why a month ago I convened a three-day OSHA leadership Conference in Baltimore. This was the first time in more than 15 years that all OSHA's managers throughout the United States met in one place. It was also my first opportunity since coming aboard this spring to work with them to develop a vision and direction for the Agency.

More than half of our managers are poised to retire, so we need to prepare a new generation of leaders whose job is to introduce OSHA to new generations of working men and women. We came away from our leadership conference with a renewed sense of commitment and dedication to continuing to lead the way for safer and more healthful workplaces.

As you know, I was trained in labor law, not occupational safety. Yet the concept of "accident prevention" was instilled in me early and reaffirmed when I joined the Jackson Lewis law firm in South Carolina. The firm was founded on this concept of prevention, and it has been a strong part of my philosophy.

In fact, in my first job out of law school, I was sent to a construction company to conduct employment training. A worker died on the site that morning, and it changed me forever. I knew from that moment on that my life's mission would be dedicated to safety and health.

As the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, I am making it my personal mission to reach out and touch the hearts of employers everywhere, to move them to do the right thing and protect their employees. I know that sounds corny - "Ed Foulke wants to run around and touch people's hearts" is not exactly the traditional image for the government, is it? - but I am talking about persuasion here, and peoples' lives are at stake.

I recognize that the vast majority of business owners want to protect their employees; many times, they just need help with the process. That is why OSHA extends a helping hand through our wide range of tools and services. We want to see employers and employees succeed while staying safe on the job.

On the other hand, there are employers out there who think that paying OSHA fines is "just part of the cost of doing business." Let me tell you: I am not going to put up with that attitude!

OSHA tries to be helpful to businesses, but when we find employers who fail to uphold their employee safety and health responsibilities, we deal with them strongly.

But believe me, we would prefer to help a business prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities, rather than answer a single call about a workplace tragedy. This is the message I want businesses to understand about OSHA.

Here is an analogy anyone can relate to: When you see a police officer on a street corner, you are not afraid of him. You might even go up and ask for directions and you'll be grateful for the advice.

However, you are also aware that if you run a red light, that same friendly, helpful police officer will be obliged to issue you a ticket that could result in your paying a hefty fine for breaking the law.

This is how I want employers to think of OSHA. I tell them: Do not be afraid to come to us for help and advice. We should all be on the same side of the law, working toward the same goal: Assuring the safety and health of employees.

I think one of the parts of OSHA that has me really excited is our cooperative programs. These provide tailor-made opportunities for businesses of any size to work with OSHA and other experienced employers to address workplace safety and health issues.

Businesses that ask OSHA for help 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 our Strategic Partnerships, Voluntary Protection Programs, and our Alliances - such as our Alliance with the National Safety Council, more of which I will talk about in just a moment.

OSHA's data and 35 years of experience show that companies that implement comprehensive, effective safety and health management 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.

In fact, worksites that operate under our Voluntary Protection Programs and implement a comprehensive safety and health management system find their injury rates are generally half their industry average. Translated into dollars, we estimate that companies participating in OSHA's VPP program have saved since 1982 more than $1 billion.

When I meet with business owners, I make it a point to remind them that in a time when companies in the United States are making difficult decisions about profits, losses, and keeping jobs here in America, choosing to improve safety and health programs is not just their legal and, I personally believe, their moral responsibility; it also makes good business sense.

In June, at the Region I conference for the Voluntary Protection Programs Participant Association, the governor of Vermont, James Douglas, said programs like VPP are helping to keep jobs in his state.

Texas City, Texas, has officially recognized the value of VPP. In June of this year, the commissioners announced a 20 percent tax abatement to every industrial entity that achieves and maintains VPP. Texas City's mayor, Matthew Doyle, said this tax benefit is "a small price to pay for a safer community." Needless to say, we at OSHA agree.

Let me give you just two other examples of how OSHA's programs are helping businesses stay competitive:

Titleist, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is the only company left in the U.S. that manufactures golf balls. All the other companies went out of business or went overseas. Titleist, which operates 5 VPP plants, is still in operation and going strong.

Hasbro, which owns Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers, is the largest board game maker in the world - and it is here in the United States and its manufacturing facility in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts is a long-time VPP site.

Let me add a note about workers' comp that not everyone realizes: Workers' compensation premiums are based on industries, not individual businesses. This means that when a bad player in an industry - a business owner who ignores safety and health standards and puts employees at risk - drives up the cost of insurance premiums for everyone in the industry.

However, by working through OSHA's cooperative programs, such as our Alliances, we work together to educate everyone in an industry on how to bring down their injury and illness rates, which will lead to a reduction in everyone's insurance premiums.

Last year at this conference, OSHA and the National Safety Council sat down together to renew our Alliance. We pledged to continue to leverage our resources and work together to reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

A number of the workshop sessions here at the National Safety Congress are the product of this collaborative effort. The National Safety Council also has helped to develop and review many OSHA eTools and website Safety and Health Topics Pages.

Together, we will continue to provide our nation's employers and employees with information, guidance and access to training resources. We will especially look at the needs of the construction industry, small businesses, Hispanic and young employees, who are particularly vulnerable to workplace hazards.

We are also making a specific commitment to help reduce injuries and fatalities caused by on-the-job traffic collisions and to improve efforts to provide first aid, CPR, and automatic external defibrillator training in the workplace.

The National Safety Council is working with OSHA's Regional and Area Offices on joint outreach activities with NSC Chapters to address safety and health issues. Together, we will develop case studies to illustrate the business value of safety and health, and when we are done, we will publicize the results.

I am also grateful to NSC for participating in OSHA's Alliance with the airline industry. In fact, there is a program scheduled for this conference that will explain how this Alliance has been working to address ergonomic issues related to baggage handling.

Another program at this conference looks at our Hispanic outreach efforts, and a third program will describe the best practices leading to the success of our Alliances.

I have great faith and great hope in our Alliance with the National Safety Council, and all our cooperative programs. The more we work together, the more we learn from each other and the better we become at learning how to effectively address the particular needs of different employers.

These cooperative programs extend OSHA's reach by engaging the resources of other organizations and businesses - especially their human resources.

It used to be that one member of a site-inspection team for our VPP candidates was a representative from an outside business; today they often make up half of the visitation teams.

By working with industry volunteers, at no cost to the Agency, OSHA is reaching many thousands worksites that our employees could achieve alone.

I can tell that everyone is excited about this conference, and why not? We are here in sunny San Diego, we are among friends, and there are so many opportunities to learn more about our field and become better at our jobs.

For this year's conference OSHA has put together some excellent presentations which highlight our cooperative programs and outreach efforts. This afternoon, a special panel of OSHA directors will gather to give you overview and update of our programs.

If you missed this morning's presentation about "How to get the most out of OSHA's website," you can learn more at the OSHA exhibit booth in the Expo hall, where you will also find our latest and best information materials - which, as always, are FREE.

So, please stop by to say "hello" and see what new resources OSHA is offering that can "add value... to your business, work and life."

I also want to leave you today with a personal challenge.

It is great to gather at conferences like this and to talk among ourselves about the importance of safety and health on and off the job. But there are hundreds and thousands of individuals and businesses out there, beyond the walls of this convention center, who have not yet heard our message.

We need to seek them out where they live and work -mainly the employers of small and medium-sized businesses who do not have a good safety and health program - and get them to listen to us.

I want to challenge everyone here today to go out to your local chambers of commerce, your Rotaries, Kiwanis and other groups like this. Share our message so that they understand how and where to get advice.

Until they do, and until they embrace safety and health in their daily work lives, our work is not done.