• Information Date
  • Presented To
    Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA)
  • 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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 for Occupational Safety and Health

Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors
National Association (SMACNA)
Miami, Florida
December 5, 2006

Good morning. Thank you for that kind introduction and warm welcome. I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today about a subject that is near and dear to my heart: workplace safety and health.

By your invitation, in talking with safety and health representatives at SMACNA and by the fact that we will be signing a renewal of the Alliance between OSHA and SMACNA here today, it is wonderful to see that workplace safety is an important issue to you as well.

OSHA at 35

This is a significant year for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA was founded 35 years ago. This is a time of reflection and renewal as OSHA takes stock of what we have learned and accomplished since President Nixon and Congress created the Agency in 1971. 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 working men and women across America.

In my opinion, the most important concept that employers can embrace is "the power of prevention" and what it means for running a successful business or organization. This is what I want to discuss with you in the time that we have together this morning.

Personal Vision

The concept of "prevention" was instilled in me early in my career when I was sent to a construction company to conduct employment training. On that very morning an employee died on the site. This changed me forever. I knew from that moment on that my life's mission would be dedicated to safety and health.

Just as that workplace fatality early in my career touched my heart, I intend to use my position as OSHA's administrator to move the hearts of all employers in the nation to work toward continually improving the health and safety of their worksites.

I want to impress upon employers the need to protect their most valuable business asset - their employees. I want to get the message out that the most effective safety and health strategy available is prevention. I want people to know that the most reliable resource for help is OSHA. And this morning I'm going to share with you some of the reasons I present in favor of emphasizing prevention. My hope is that I will inspire you to help "spread the word."

The Power of Prevention

Since OSHA began in 1971, work-related fatalities have decreased by 60 percent and injuries and illnesses are down 40 percent. I do not want to delve too far into numbers, but these are important.

In 1971, nearly 14,000 people died on the job. In 2005, the number was down to 5,700 people, despite the fact that twice as many people are working today, compared to 35 years ago. To put these numbers into context, if we still had a fatality rate as high as 1971, more than 23,000 people would have died on the job last year.

Let me say as emphatically as I can: Although the overall numbers are good - we are seeing historic lows, after all - OSHA never loses sight of the fact that these statistics are people. In a single year, 5,700 people lost their lives, their dreams and their futures. It is a great tragedy that they died. More than 5,000 families lost a mother or a father, a sister or brother. Countless co-workers lost a colleague and a friend.

The tragedy is compounded by the fact that most workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities are preventable. I believe this is the single "big idea" that every employer should remember when thinking about workplace tragedies: PREVENTION.

Now, we all know that it is every employer's responsibility to provide safe and healthy working conditions for their employees. But, in addition to this being your legal responsibility, ensuring workplace safety also makes good business sense. I am here to tell you why:

When employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health program, 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.

Workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities cost the country more than $170 billion per year. These costs affect every person 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 pocket - often forcing them to dip into savings or default on payments. As a result, these employees are much more likely to lose their homes, their cars, and their health insurance. Taking steps to keep employees safe reduces this spiral of debt.

There is a comparable impact on employers. Our data suggests that companies that implement effective safety and health programs can expect to see their injury and illness rates reduced by 20 percent or more. We see proof of this in the superior performance of companies and organizations operating under our cooperative programs, such as SHARP (Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program), Strategic Partnerships, and Voluntary Protection Programs. Worksites where a comprehensive safety and health management program has been implemented generally find their injury rates are 50 percent lower than their industry average.

In a terrific article in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year entitled "Safety Seen in Small Numbers," staff writer Michelle Keller reported the results of a study by the Rand Corporation. The study concluded that among the safest places to work are "small, single-site firms where an owner may be present and communication is constant" - note the emphasis on constant communication. A health and safety consulting company interviewed for the story told the reporter that "emphasizing safety training early on can help establish a culture of safety" that can transform and inspire a company to unforeseen levels of excellence in quality and productivity. On the flipside, some companies expose themselves to dangerous situations simply because they do not take time to identify and abate hazards.

In a time when companies are making difficult decisions about profits, losses, and keeping jobs here in America, choosing to improve safety and health programs is not only the responsible decision, but it is also the best management decision.

OSHA: Your Resource

My goal, and indeed OSHA's mission, is for every working man and woman to return home at the end of the day safe and healthy. One way we can ensure the achievement of this goal is be ensuring that OSHA provides the tools, information and guidance that businesses need to succeed.

The road to a safer workplace begins with a commitment by management to assess hazards, and develop and institute a comprehensive safety and health plan. I emphasize this to every employer and organization I meet, and I hope you will go back to your colleagues who are not here today and give them a message from Ed Foulke: OSHA is here to help employers and employees.

You can start today by visiting OSHA's website: www.osha.gov. More than 100 million people will visit the website this year. There you will find free fact sheets, guidance documents, pocket guides, posters, and hundreds of other pages of free information to show you how to keep everyone safe and healthy on the job.

OSHA's advice is free because we want to help employers. OSHA wants to see businesses succeed - but never at the expense of employee safety. If we can convey this simple, direct message to every person here, and to every employer in your community, we will help save lives, save money, and save jobs.

OSHA can show you how: With a single phone call to your local OSHA office, you can get in touch with an On-site Consultation Program expert who will help you develop a comprehensive workplace safety and health system. More than 500,000 businesses have benefited from OSHA's consultation program since it was founded 30 years ago.

Best of all: All of this is free.

Small Business

I have been told that the "free" part is important to small businesses, such as the sheet metal and air conditioning contractors that are here today or that you represent.

Small businesses are the bedrock of the American economy and the engine for much of our nation's innovation. Did you know that small businesses create two out of every three new jobs and account for nearly half of America's overall employment? This is why OSHA must do all it can to support their ability to thrive, despite their small scale.

We are directly reaching out to the small business community and making OSHA's compliance assistance offerings more accessible. We are focused on educating more businesses about how to create and maintain safer, more healthful workplaces.

In our efforts to help small businesses, we have distributed more than 130,000 copies of OSHA's updated Small Business Handbook and have welcomed 200,000 visitors to our small business website. Through our Small Business Initiative, we are sharing best practice tips and examining the prospect of awarding inspection exemptions to companies that request and undergo a comprehensive (safety and health) on-site consultation visit.

We also are working with the Small Business Administration to hold monthly Small Business Safety Roundtables. To date, sessions have focused on Silica in Construction, hexavalent chromium, OSHA cooperative and compliance assistance programs, electrical power transmission, and emerging technologies/nanotechnology.

Here in Florida and in Georgia, Alabama, New York and Kansas, we have hosted Hispanic fairs focused on reducing injuries and illnesses among at-risk employee populations.

Given our goals for small business, I am always inspired when I hear about companies that are successfully reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

Yancey Produce, a SHARP company in Loveland, Colorado, had annual workers' comp premiums of $320,000 before joining OSHA's SHARP program. Its premium in 2005 was $180,000 - a $140,000 per year savings - and the company expects its premiums to decrease more this year.

McNairn Packaging is a Massachusetts company that manufactures cellophane and waxed bags for food packaging. Because of its partnership with OSHA, the company was able to save over $25,000 and enter an entirely new workers' comp risk pool. To date, McNairn continues to experience a very low injury rate which will further reduce its premium costs in the future.


SMACNA is an organization that can and should be proud of its commitment to safety through your own programs and through your Alliance with OSHA. You are one of 440 organizations that have committed to working with OSHA to develop tools and resources that will help prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the workplace.

OSHA signed 14 new national Alliances and 65 new regional and area office Alliances in the last 12 months - which means that we now have more than 440 active Alliances.

I am proud to stand before you today as OSHA and SMACNA renew our Alliance, which was first signed in August 2004. This agreement has focused on developing information, guidance, and access to training resources to help protect employees' health and safety. Over the last two years we have addressed a range of issues, such as motor vehicle safety, fall protection, and personal protective equipment.

We have shared information about best practices in safety, developed relationships at both the national and local level, and focused special attention on the needs of Spanish-speaking employees, an issue of particular importance here in Florida, but which is also significant throughout the country.

We will continue to expand on these initiatives and identify new opportunities for cooperation over the next two years. Thank you for your exemplary commitment to the safety and health of your employees.

Hexavalent Chromium

In talking with your director of safety and health, Mike McCullion, it was clear that you might have some questions about OSHA's hexavalent chromium standard. I will give you a quick overview of our progress in this area before I conclude.

OSHA has developed extensive outreach materials to help businesses comply with the final chromium standard, including: fact sheets summarizing the standard, and the health effects of hexavalent chromium, a Small Entity Compliance Guide, updates to the Hexavalent Chromium Safety and Health Topics page on the OSHA website; and a webcast providing guidance on the standard.

Additional compliance assistance products are under development. We are firmly committed to helping businesses understand and comply with the standard. Please let us know if we can do more to help you comply with the standard.

SMACNA and OSHA: A Common Goal of Prevention and Safety

Let me end with an analogy that everyone here 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.

So, please go back to your businesses this week and do everything you can to promote prevention and instill a culture of safety and health in your workplaces. When you have questions or need information, make OSHA your resource. Together, we can make sure that employees will be protected and return home to their families each day safe and sound. Together, we can make American workplaces the safest, most healthful and most productive in the world.

Thank you for your time this morning. Thank you for being a part of the safety solution.