Presented ToHouse Appropriations Subcommitte on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies
Speaker(s)Dear, Joseph A.
STATEMENT OF JOSEPH A. DEAR
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON
LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES,
EDUCATION AND RELATED AGENCIES
FEBRUARY 23, 1995
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Fiscal Year 1996 appropriation request. I am here this morning to present OSHA's budget for FY 1996. But to understand our request, it is critical that we first take a step back to look at the agency's overall mission and record, as well as our current reinvention efforts.
In the past few months, you have heard a lot about OSHA, almost all of it negative. You have heard from employers that OSHA is filled with incompetent inspectors who fine businesses thousands of dollars for nitpicky violations that have little to do with worker safety. You have heard about everything from the tooth fairy to guardrails, from chewing gum to dishwashing detergent. And many of you may be wondering the same thing Congressman Dickey asked Secretary Reich last month: What if we just got rid of the agency altogether?
This morning, I would like to take the bull by the horns. First, if these stories were true, I might be asking the same question about the need for OSHA. But virtually all of these stories are false. OSHA has not banned the tooth fairy; dentists can give children their extracted teeth. OSHA does not require all guardrails to be precisely 42 inches high, and has not enforced such a requirement in nearly two decades. OSHA does not prohibit workers from chewing gum, although we do restrict asbestos removal workers from ingesting food where a high level of asbestos is present, since ingestion of asbestos causes cancer and lung damage. OSHA does not require Material Data Safety Sheets for the normal use of consumer products like Joy; workers must be informed of risks only when they are regularly exposed to high levels of substances that actually pose health risks.
So I am here today to correct the phony stories you are hearing. But I am also here to tell a story you are not hearing:OSHA saves lives.
Since its creation in 1970, OSHA has performed an invaluable service to millions of hardworking American families. Through its protective standards and enforcement program, OSHA has helped to reduce the workplace fatality rate by over 50 percent since 1970. Eliminating the agency, or gutting these programs, would be a terrible tragedy for working men and women.
First, by protecting workers from specific hazards and making employers more safety conscious, OSHA's standards have made a real difference--often the difference between life and death--to millions of working Americans. For example, since OSHA strengthened trenching protections in 1990, trenching fatalities have declined by 35 percent. OSHA's Lead Standard saved thousands of smelting and battery plant workers from anemia, nerve disorders, seizures, brain damage and even death from prolonged exposure to lead. The agency's Grain Handling Standard protects workers from grain dust explosions, and has helped reduce related fatalities by 58 percent, and injuries by 41 percent. In the textile industry, the rate of "brown lung" cases--involving a crippling and sometimes fatal respiratory disease--declined from 40,000 cases to a few hundred after OSHA issued its Cotton Dust Standard.
Millions of working Americans have also benefited directly from OSHA's enforcement program. In the three years following an OSHA inspection and fine, injuries at the inspected worksite decline by as much as 22 percent. In fact, since 1975 injury and illness rates have fallen in the industries in which OSHA has concentrated 84% of its enforcement activities (manufacturing, construction and oil and gas extraction), while they have risen in other industries.
In FY 1994 alone, OSHA inspections helped make over 40,000 workplaces safer for nearly two million working Americans. These are ordinary men and women, like the scaffold workers at a Cleveland construction site who had no safety belts though their worksite was 70 feet above the ground. OSHA inspected the site and insisted that workers wear the belts. Four days later, the scaffold collapsed, but the workers were saved by their new safety belts.
These are workers like those at Boise Cascade, who were being injured at alarming rates until OSHA inspected the company and assessed a $750,000 fine. The company heard the wake-up call, and implemented a comprehensive safety and health program. It cut injury rates by 78 percent and workers' compensation costs by 75 percent. "OSHA played a key role in these accomplishments," according to the company's counsel.
So yes, millions of working Americans owe their lives, their health, and their safety to OSHA's protective standards and enforcement efforts.
But our work is far from done. Every year, work-related accidents and illnesses cost an estimated 56,000 American lives--more than the total American lives lost in battle during the entire 9-year Vietnam War. On an average day, 17 working Americans are killed in safety accidents, an estimated 137 more die from occupational diseases, and another 16,000 are injured. Safety accidents alone cost our economy over $100 billion a year, and occupational illnesses cost many times more. We all bear these costs--as employers, as workers, and as taxpayers.
Since coming to OSHA in 1993, I have been working hard to reduce these numbers, and to get the most out of our limited resources. But I also recognize that in the past, the agency has at times lost sight of its mission, focusing too much on adversarial, nitpicky processes, and not enough on saving lives. I would now like to tell you about our efforts to address these problems, and about the promising, even remarkable results we have already achieved.
Inspection and penalty quotas. Many employers have complained that OSHA inspectors care less about worker safety than they do about meeting perceived "quotas" for citations and penalties. While OSHA has never used quotas, it has used citations and penalties as performance measures. Last year I put a stop to this practice. OSHA's performance will now be measured by its success in making safety and health improvements.
Complicated regulations. Last October, OSHA published a request in the Federal Register, asking workers, employers and others in the safety and health community to help us identify outdated, duplicative, or conflicting regulations. This project will allow us to weed out provisions that do nothing to protect human life.
Inspections of employers who already have safe workplaces. I am refocusing OSHA's inspections so that we do not waste resources and employers' time in looking at workplace conditions that present no danger to workers. For example, under our Focused Inspection Program, construction employers who maintain a comprehensive safety and health program will only be inspected for the four types of hazards that constitute the leading causes of death in that industry. In addition, percent citations for the most common paperwork violations have declined by 35 percent over the past four years.
Confrontational approach. Some employers believe that OSHA's enforcement approach is too confrontational. We are changing this attitude and creating incentives for employers to comply with OSHA. For example, we are now conducting a pilot project in Maine that uses workers compensation data to target the most hazardous workplaces. The 200 employers with the worst safety records were given a choice: implement a comprehensive safety and health program, or be put on a priority list for a wall-to-wall inspection. The vast majority chose the first option, with stunning results. During the first 18 months of the program, participants identified nearly 100,000 hazards and violations, at a rate over 14 times higher than OSHA's own rate of identifying such problems. More than one-half of these hazards and violations have already been abated. OSHA has already expanded this program to Wisconsin and we are looking to expand it further.
Too much paperwork and inefficiency. OSHA has been in the forefront of the Administration's efforts to reinvent and streamline government. This year we will use our funding to complete the redesign of many of the agency's field offices so that we can respond to workers' complaints faster and focus more on getting results rather than filling out forms. We intend to be more creative in finding opportunities to protect the American workforce.
Not enough help for employers. In FY 1995, state consultants funded by OSHA are projected to conduct 23,000 visits, mostly to assist small businesses who need help in meeting our standards. We want to increase that number to 25,000 this year. The agency will also continue increasing the number of worksites enrolled in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs, which recognize employers for excellence in the protection of workers. Last year we increased this number by 70 percent.
1996 Budget Request
The budget which I present will allow us to expand each of these reinvention and compliance assistance efforts, to make OSHA more effective in protecting workers, and to encourage employers to make their workplaces safer. The Fiscal Year 1996 budget requests a total of $346,503,000 and 2,318 FTE--a net increase of $34,003,000 and one FTE from 1995.
More specifically, streamlining is a major objective of OSHA's 1996 budget request. Our requested increase of $4,500,000 will enable us to develop and implement a comprehensive training strategy to support streamlining activities. The request includes funding for permanent change of station moves to accommodate the relocation of existing employees into front-line positions.
OSHA is also requesting a program increase of $7,574,000 to provide for more flexibility in its Federal and State enforcement programs. This request includes an additional 45 Federal compliance officers and investigators. The additional staff will give us greater leverage in establishing partnerships with local employer and employee groups, and in offering technical assistance, and will also enable us to implement additional innovative programs modeled on Maine 200. The request also includes funding for expert witnesses associated with litigation against those employers who fail to protect workers against injury and illness. Additionally, we are asking for an increase in Federal funding for matching grants to support enhancements in state occupational safety and health plans, which will enable the states to implement program improvements similar to the Federal program.
The request provides an increase of $8,000,000 for enhanced outreach activities, designed to support workers and employers in their efforts to create safer, healthier workplaces. This increase includes $5,000,000 to expand OSHA's training grant program. We are also requesting $3,000,000 to implement revisions to the onsite consultation program to enable state agencies to increase the impact of the program.
These proposed initiatives in enforcement and outreach, as well as our streamlining and data initiative, are dependent upon the improved use of technology and data. We are requesting an increase of $4,000,000 to enable us to continue the modernization of our technological environment.
We are requesting an increase of $1,000,000 to continue development of our data collection system. This is a multi-year project, initiated in 1995, which will allow the agency to develop and utilize improved information from available data sources to focus and measure activities.
Finally, our request includes an increase of $3,000,000 to enable us, jointly with the Environmental Protection Agency, to assume the responsibilities of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. With this increase, OSHA expects to continue its current activities in the chemical industry while meeting the anticipated need for more thorough accident investigations and evaluation.
In sum, I think we can all agree that protecting worker safety is a worthy goal. In that sense, OSHA's fundamental mission is as sound as it was a quarter-century ago. At the same time, OSHA is working hard to improve its focus on real improvements in worker safety and health, to simplify its protective regulations, to assist employers who want to comply with them, and to target our limited resources at the most dangerous hazards and worksites. Our 1996 budget request is critically necessary to enable us to complete these reinvention and compliance assistance efforts.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This concludes my statement. I will be pleased to respond to any questions.