Remarks Prepared For
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health
Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Good morning. This is our third visit together. Today, I have a number of updates for you on OSHA activities.
As you know, Dr. David Michaels was confirmed by the United States Senate last week as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA.
David is a distinguished scientist at George Washington University, and a friend of mine. He has not only an impressive academic record, but also has led the worker health and safety program at the Department of Energy.
On October 30, we issued $87.4 million in proposed penalties to BP - the largest in OSHA's history. We took this action when we determined that BP failed to correct potential hazards at its refinery in Texas City - hazards that continue to threaten workers' health and safety four years after safety violations at this worksite resulted in a massive explosion, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others.
BP is just one of several recent, significant enforcement cases where OSHA has cited companies for egregious violations of workplace safety and health standards.
- We fined Tempel Grain Elevators of Wiley, Colo., more than $1.6 million following the death of a teen worker at a grain storage site.
- We've proposed more than half a million dollars in fines against Cranesville Aggregate for significant hazards at its cement and asphalt bagging plant in Scotia, N.Y.
- OSHA also recently fined Loren Cook Company more than half a million dollars for alleged willful and serious violations after a worker was killed by an ejected machine part.
- And earlier this year (February) we fined A-1 Excavating in Wisconsin nearly $700,000 in willful violations for exposing workers in a trench that lacked protective systems and spoil piles.
In fact, in the last two months, OSHA has addressed more egregious cases and issued higher fines than in the previous fiscal year. This reflects Labor Secretary Hilda Solis' commitment to refocus OSHA's priorities on writing and enforcing standards to protect workers.
I know that you understand OSHA's position. We're moving toward tougher citations and penalties not simply to punish, but to provide a powerful incentive for employers to respect their workers, integrate protection into business operations, and make prevention a priority.
We need to send the message that even in times of great economic hardship, we will not tolerate cutting corners on safety.
OSHA will enforce its standards uniformly on all construction sites, providing a fair and level field for everyone in the industry. OSHA will bring the full force of its citations and penalties to any contractor who violates the law.
When we last met, I told you about OSHA launching a construction safety sweep in response to a spike in construction fatalities in Texas. OSHA brought inspectors from all across the country to conduct nearly 900 inspections throughout the state, resulting in almost 1,500 citations and fines totaling almost $2 million.
It's no secret to anyone here that, on the national level, more fatalities occur in construction than any other industry, and that each year one-third of all Hispanic workers killed on the job work in construction.
To address this deadly trend, OSHA, along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and other agencies, is sponsoring a Hispanic workers summit in Texas in April 2010. As details take shape for this important summit, I hope you will help promote this event and participate by sharing your ideas as part of the solution to this national problem.
You will here more about this summit from my Chief of Staff Debbie Berkowitz later this morning.
State Plan Oversight
When it comes to standards and enforcement, I think that everyone appreciates clarity and consistency, which is why OSHA is strengthening its oversight of state plans.
OSHA values state plans. Many have shown that they have the flexibility to address workplace hazards that are sometimes not addressed by federal OSHA, and this agency strongly supports their initiative and dedication.
Now and in the future, federal OSHA will work closely with state plans and provide assistance before a state's program becomes deficient.
OSHA will conduct formal studies of every state that administers its own program, like our recent evaluation of Nevada OSHA. Our aim is to achieve better performance and consistency throughout all the state plans.
Accurate Records, Good Incentives
OSHA is also concerned about accuracy in reporting workplace injuries and illnesses.
The GAO report on injury and illness recordkeeping, released November 16, contained a number of troubling findings, including evidence that OSHA's current audit process needs improvement.
The report also found that certain incentive and discipline programs can discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses and, most alarmingly, that a high percentage of health care providers have been pressured to adjust treatment or take other steps to avoid reporting injuries and illnesses.
Most of this information had been reported in studies and Congressional hearings, which prompted OSHA on October 1 to initiate a major Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program to ensure that injuries and illnesses are accurately reported.
OSHA needs accurate data to effectively target its inspections and other resources, and to measure the effect of this agency's actions on workplace safety. For these reasons, Secretary Solis and I welcomed the findings of the GAO report and assured the GAO that we will comply with the report's recommendations.
Standards and Guidance
OSHA has accelerated its efforts to develop long-awaited standards addressing worker exposure to numerous on-the-job hazards.
In recent months we have -
- revised our enforcement policies for fall protection during steel erection
- posted a letter of interpretation requiring the use of high-visibility warning garments to protect construction workers in highway work zones
- issued a direct final rule to protect workers from acetylene hazards
In the coming months, OSHA will -
- continue working on a final rule for confined spaces in construction
- rescind OSHA's compliance directive on residential construction
Most important, we are preparing the final rule in the new cranes and derricks rulemaking. We plan to issue this new standard in July 2010.
We're also looking forward to your comments on the three rulemakings we have asked you to consider at this meeting - the MSD column regulation, the silica standard, and the standards improvement project. Dorothy Dougherty and her staff will be briefing you on these rulemakings later today. We look forward to your input.
Green Jobs Workshop
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has organized a workshop next week here in Washington, D.C., called "Making Green Jobs Safe: Integrating Occupational Safety and Health into Green and Sustainability."
The event stems from NIOSH's new Going Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs initiative to ensure green jobs are good for workers by integrating worker safety and health. OSHA will be a strong participant in this workshop.
ACCSH Work Groups
I've taken some time to review the ongoing activities of the ACCSH Work Groups. Clearly the committee has been working very hard on many important issues and products.
The ideas and recommendations stemming from the work groups have been of great benefit to OSHA and construction workers throughout America.
To better align this committee's efforts with the goals and initiatives of our new administration, I request that ACCSH consider making some changes to its work groups:
- I wish to ask ACCSH to change the Regulatory Compliance Work Group to a work group that can focus on Green Jobs in Construction. This work group could give the Agency much-needed assistance by defining green jobs in construction, and helping OSHA develop training materials, research, and information for a new page in our Construction Web Site that will focus on Green Construction.
- I would ask ACCSH to consider broadening the Silica Work Group to address other health hazards in construction: In addition to Silica, it would be helpful if this work group addressed health hazards such as the consistency of Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), Isocyanates, Lead, and Ergonomics.
- I would like to suggest broadening the Roll Over Protection work group to include Prevention Though Design issues. We are looking for help in developing products that will make design industries more aware of the value of design decisions that can help reduce hazards to construction workers.
I commend the committee for strongly promoting health and safety in the workplace. OSHA looks forward to working with you as we have so effectively in the past.