Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health
Building Trades Employers' Association (BTEA) of New York
2010 Safety Conference
New York City, NY
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Thanks to Lou Coletti for inviting OSHA to be part of BTEA's annual workplace safety conference.
Thanks as well to Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council.
Dr. David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of OSHA, sends his greetings and his thanks to the BTEA for its commitment to worker safety and health.
I want to recognize the collaborative efforts of New York City entities that worked together in the last year to improve safety and health conditions for workers in the construction industry. BTEA, unions and business owners, insurance companies, the Port Authority, the fire department, the building department, and OSHA all contributed to a cooperative environment that focused on preventing worker injuries and exposure to hazards that can cause illnesses on the job.
What the Numbers Mean
Dr. Michaels and I are pleased to note that the fatality numbers in the industry are lower this year — and while a slower economy with fewer people at work contributed to the decline in deaths on the job in construction here in New York, this change is also due to better compliance by industry and effective enforcement of the rules by OSHA and the city's Department of Buildings.
Still, more than 50 percent of the construction fatalities last year in New York were due to falls from elevations. We still have workers falling to their deaths through unguarded openings, roofs and ledges.
Just last Friday, OSHA cited a steel erection contractor for alleged willful and serious violations of workplace safety standards after a non-union company worker was killed in a fall at a construction site in Brooklyn.
Last May, construction foreman Luis Zaruma was working on the top of a six-story residential building under construction. The cantilevered steel beam section he was working on shifted and he fell about 50 feet to the ground.
OSHA's inspection found, among other preventable hazards, that this section and other steel beams had not been stabilized to prevent displacement, and the worker lacked fall protection.
This case illustrates the ultimate cost a worker can pay when required protections are absent or disregarded. Had the proper steel erection precautions and fall protection been in place, Luis Zaruma's death would have been prevented.
A local news account reported that his family recalled his offering a cheerful "good morning" as he left for the job site at 7 a.m. He never made it home. He was 36 years old.
All of us here in this room understand that construction workers and their families should not, can not, must not accept risk of death as a condition for employment –– and neither should we.
And as the economy continues to recover and as the construction industry rebounds, we must not presume that fatalities and injuries in the building trades must invariably rise as well. The industry has the knowledge and experience to prevent deaths like Luis Zaruma's.
New Cranes and Derricks Standard
We also have a new, nationwide standard for Cranes and Derricks to help prevent worker injuries and deaths. As of November 8, the new standard is now in effect.
Earlier this morning you had a detailed discussion of crane safety with members of the OSHA's Directorate Construction; I wanted to take this opportunity to thank BTEA members for your input and participation today and throughout this rulemaking process.
Rob Weiss of A.J. McNulty, one of your members, was a member of the Crane Derrick Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee. He contributed many valuable insights, particularly concerning crane operations in a dense urban environment. Thank you Rob.
I know the new standard is meaningful to everyone here. New York has had its share of high-visibility crane problems, and we expect that compliance with the new standard will save lives.
There's no question that lives are at stake. Cranes and rigging present significant dangers for workers. We were long overdue to modernize the OSHA standard to reflect current technology and techniques.
BTEA members are naturally concerned about complying with the new standard, so let me assure you: We recognize that the local safety codes in New York City are already stringent; and where these meet or exceed the Federal standard, the employers who meet them will be deemed in compliance with OSHA's standard as well.
As with all new standards, there will be a ramp–up in enforcement. In the meantime, we are working to produce an employer compliance guide as well as a compliance directive for our compliance officers.
Employers who already have good processes and work practices will probably only need minor adjustments in their efforts to comply with the new standard. It is those employers who are operating outside of the norm –– not those represented here in this room –– that will have to change the most to comply.
Beyond regulation, the building industry is stepping up with solutions –– incorporating engineering controls. Employers represented here by BTEA are raising the bar on expectations for what is acceptable and desirable and forward looking, and your successes will set standards for others to follow.
Prevention Through Design was a novel idea a few years ago. Now this concept of designing structures with built-in protections for workers is finding wider acceptance in the industry, and with the support and leadership of organizations like BTEA, these life-saving controls are moving toward becoming the norm for new and renovated buildings.
The industry-sponsored Best Practices forum held at McGraw Hill here in the city presented opportunities to share lessons learned.
And "cocooning" for poured-in-place concrete buildings, already successfully used in several high-rise structures around the city, is now providing added safety for workers erecting One World Trade Center. The innovative "cocoon" protection system, wrapping all four sides of the tower's top floors in protective netting, continues to rise with the building.
The industry is also working on other passive safety devices to help engineer-out hazards, instead of placing the burden of safety and health on the workers.
In September, at the invitation of the Ironworkers group and IMPACT, Dr. Michaels toured the Ground Zero construction site to express his support for the "Rebuilding Through Unity" campaign. This campaign is dedicated to zero injuries and fatalities in this most visible and symbolically vital project –– a positive example of cooperative safety efforts by employers and unions.
Building Inspector Program
To extend OSHA's outreach, this summer we launched our Building Inspector pilot program in 10 cities across the country to reduce fatal injuries on construction sites –– particularly worker deaths caused by falls, electrocution, caught-between and struck-by hazards.
This summer, OSHA began a dialogue with the building inspectors in ten Pilot Cities, similar to a program that New York has had in place for many years. In these Pilot Cities, we provided inspectors with a short training program on critical hazards and OSHA standards in construction.
We were not turning the building inspectors into OSHA inspectors, but we have asked them, in the course of conducting their own operations, to be vigilant. If they see a serious job hazard or OSHA violation, they should either discuss the problem to the employer or call OSHA. We will treat building inspector calls as referrals and we will respond by sending in a compliance officer to investigate allegations of serious hazards or violations.
The Building Inspector initiative is an outgrowth of an alliance between OSHA and the New York City Department of Buildings. It's a fine example of cooperation between federal and local governments, benefiting both as well as helping our shared stakeholders and their communities.
We recently began evaluating the program in the Pilot Cities to determine whether to expand it.
Outreach and Training
I also want to thank employers who are providing their workers with proper training –– particularly the many non-English-speaking immigrant workers in the construction industry. As we know, these workers are injured and killed on the job at a disproportionate rate nationwide.
In a directive earlier this year, Dr. Michaels issued a reminder that employers must provide their workers safety and health training and instructions in a language and at a level that they can understand.
I know that contractors and unions here in New York understand what is behind this directive. Through your joint training funds, the training and material you provide are in multiple languages.
At the OSHA/NIOSH Latino Summit held last week, Laborers Local #79 and #10 both described the effective training programs in place for workers in the construction industry. This is good work. This is making a genuine difference in peoples' lives.
You know, everyone complains about workers' compensation costs when a worker gets injured on the job; well, some the best insurance against injuries is for employers to make sure their workers clearly understand safe work practices, how and when to use their equipment, how to prevent exposure to harmful substances on the job and what their rights are under the law.
Employers providing safety and health information in a language and level their immigrant workers can understand, are also helping their industry here in New York City and beyond –– because effective training about hazards and legal rights helps inoculate these vulnerable workers against rogue employers who seek to exploit them and gain an unfair competitive advantage over responsible employers.
This is also why I think good employers should support strong enforcement of OSHA standards.
You heard right: Responsible employers should be in favor of firm enforcement –– because enforcement levels the playing field for good employers by removing any unfair competitive advantage for bad employers who are trying to cut corners.
Injury and Illness Prevention Programs
Enforcement is most effective as a deterrent, but OSHA is looking at the bigger picture as we seek ways to change the culture of workplaces so that employers and workers cooperate with a focus on prevention.
Earlier this year OSHA announced a new regulatory effort that would require employers in America to implement an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program tailored to hazards in their workplaces.
This regulation represents a fundamental change in how employers think about worker safety. Instead of waiting for a government inspection or a workplace tragedy to address problems, employers would be required to develop a plan to find the safety and health hazards in their facilities that might injure or kill workers –– and then fix those hazards.
Under this plan, employers would be expected to address all recognized hazards, not merely ones for which OSHA has standards.
This is straightforward and hard to argue: To save workers' lives, we want all employers to find and fix their hazards.
I appreciate BTEA's continued leadership of this idea. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs are hardly new in America. Thousands of the best workplaces use one, and the beneficial results are evident: high efficiency, greater worker productivity and lower costs make their workplaces strong and competitive.
And, like the flip side of our enforcement efforts, these prevention programs level the playing field in both domestic and global markets, allowing responsible employers to survive whether the economy is in a surge or in a slump.
However, these programs work only when they give workers a voice and a role in the process of making workplaces safer and more healthful. As the BTEA and BCTC have demonstrated here, when employers and workers cooperate, safety programs are more effective.
To explore this idea of requiring Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, OSHA has concluded five stakeholder meetings around the country with significant participation by employers and labor unions. We are eager to move forward to the next stages of the rulemaking process, and I am counting on BTEA members and everyone else to participate with your comments and perspective.
A year from now, we expect to publish final rule for confined spaces in construction.
The existing rule for hazard communication will be harmonized with international standards.
We will move forward on rulemaking for crystalline silica exposure, and walking, working surfaces and personal fall protection.
We will continue to offer funds for worker training and education through our Harwood grants.
We will keep our attention on preventing injuries, illness and death in high-hazard industries –– particularly construction, where we need to focus on the leading hazards: falls, electrocutions, and struck-by and caught-between.
I want to once again thank the leadership of BTEA for working to create a culture of safety and health for construction workers in New York City. The cooperative spirit we have seen in here among business owners, workers, city officials and OSHA is a model for the country.
And I want to challenge you to continue being leaders in safety for your industry –– through your support and promotion of Prevention Through Design, engineering controls, training, immigrant worker outreach, crane safety, and Injury and Illness Prevention Programs.
The Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra, was right: The great City of New York is the "city that doesn't sleep," and when it comes to worker safety and health, we can't let a single day catch us sleeping. So, let's continue to work together to make New York the undisputed "king of the hill" and "top of the list" of the safest cities in America for construction workers.
--Source: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey