ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON LABOR, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION APPROPRIATIONS.
February 26, 1998
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am pleased to come before you today to discuss the President's fiscal year 1999 budget request for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This is my first appearance before your subcommittee, and I want you to know how much I look forward to working with you to protect our nation's workers.
Prior to becoming OSHA's new Assistant Secretary, I led the State of North Carolina's OSHA program. Like Federal OSHA, we faced many challenges. We also learned some tough lessons. I was named to my position after the terrible calamity in Hamlet, North Carolina, which took 25 lives and galvanized our state's efforts on worker protection. North Carolina's legislature responded by passing more stringent laws and by doubling the state OSHA budget. We also reinvented our state OSHA program in a manner similar to the reinvention which President Clinton and Joe Dear brought to the national program.
North Carolina faced its challenges head on by focusing more on preventing illnesses and injuries and less on simply enforcing rules. Similarly, Federal OSHA and the Department of Labor have developed a strategic approach to maximize results for each dollar spent. As part of Secretary Herman's vision of a unified Department of Labor, OSHA and other agencies in the Department are pooling our efforts to foster quality workplaces that are safe, healthy and fair.
OSHA's job is to ensure that America's workers return safe and sound to their loved ones after every working day, and experience shows we make a difference. In the 22 years prior to OSHA, employers and workers reduced the death rate on the job by 37.9 percent. In the first 22 years after OSHA's creation, those rates declined by 61.1 percent. And since 1992, worker injury and illness rates have declined each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last December that the rate of worker injuries and illnesses is at its lowest point in the history of the BLS occupational injury and illness survey, at 7.4 per 100 workers.
Building on this success requires that OSHA demonstrate how preventing injuries and illnesses can benefit every employer's bottom line; that we assess and measure how agency efforts reduce workplace injuries and illnesses; that we listen to and learn from employers and workers; that we create and improve cooperative partnerships, including safety and health programs; that we enforce safety and health standards intelligently and efficiently; and that we target resources toward the most hazardous workplaces and occupations. The President is requesting a fiscal year 1999 budget of $355 million for OSHA to carry out this mission -- a net increase of $18.6 million over the fiscal year 1998 appropriation.
The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) has been a catalyst for the Department of Labor, OSHA and other agencies throughout government to develop clear goals and the plans to reach them. OSHA's fiscal year 1999 budget proposal invests in the Department's quality workplace goals, in pursuit of which we will use enforcement, partnership, compliance assistance, standards development, national, regional and local emphasis programs, and other appropriate tools.
OSHA's strategic plan specifies national injury and illness reduction goals for the first time in its history. OSHA will strive to reduce injuries and illnesses by 20 percent in 100,000 workplaces we work with over the next five years. We will focus on significant hazards in the workplace, such as silicosis, amputations and lead poisoning, as well as focus on particularly hazardous industries, including nursing homes, food processing, shipyards, logging, and the leading causes of fatalities in construction. However, although OSHA is focused on its own strategic goals, we are also mindful of the task confronting our state plan partners, who protect 40 percent of the workers in the country. We will continue to support and work with our partners in State Plan States to develop individual strategic initiatives that address state-specific concerns and improve workplace safety and health.
Achieving OSHA's strategic goals will require the kind of balanced approach that succeeded in North Carolina. We must send a clear message that serious offenders will face serious consequences while we also provide education and training to promote workplace safety.
We are having success with this approach. Injuries and illnesses in the construction industry, which receives about half of OSHA's inspections, have dropped below those in manufacturing for two consecutive years. Businesses in OSHA's award-winning Maine 200 program, the forerunner of the new Cooperative Compliance Program (CCP), identified thousands of hazards and experienced significant reductions in injuries and illnesses. An OSHA initiative in Alabama's Bayou LaBatre area shipyards led to a 47 percent reduction in eye injuries and illnesses. A Calumet City scrapyard operator reduced injuries, illnesses and workers compensation premiums by 90 percent over two years after OSHA's intervention. In another example, OSHA's partnership with EZ Paintr in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, helped the company cut workplace injuries and illnesses by almost 60 percent, with a corresponding 80 percent reduction in its workers' compensation costs over three years. These experiences show that OSHA works, and works well.
The New OSHA data initiative promises to revolutionize OSHA's ability to focus and evaluate our efforts. We can now identify workplaces that need our attention, establish appropriate performance measures for employers and ourselves, and enhance the measurement systems against which the agency's future performance will be evaluated, as required by GPRA. The agency's request includes resources to help OSHA continue and improve these endeavors.
ENFORCEMENT, PARTNERSHIP AND COMPLIANCE ASSISTANCE
The New OSHA uses both traditional enforcement and voluntary cooperative efforts to foster quality workplaces. OSHA is requesting $2.8 million in additional funds to support enforcement in high hazard industries and $1.5 million to expand outreach and compliance assistance. To support the agency's partners in safety and health, OSHA is requesting $2.5 million to augment State consultation efforts and $1.3 million to enhance State programs.
Compliance Assistance & Cooperation. The New OSHA continues to engage in many cooperative efforts. Membership in the growing Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) now includes 404 sites. OSHA's consultation programs continue to provide free advice to about 25,000 employers each year. We produce compliance assistance materials and mechanisms, including innovations like "Expert Advisors" and interactive computer programs that help users comply with several OSHA standards. Last year, with resources provided by this subcommittee, OSHA produced a handbook for use by the residential construction industry. And we will soon release a short, simple pamphlet detailing the 10 basic questions small businesses should ask themselves when complying with OSHA standards, and explaining their rights under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). Finally, the New OSHA uses meetings with stakeholders to communicate with, learn from, and explain its ideas to those affected by agency initiatives like CCP and standards efforts like ergonomics, safety and health programs, and tuberculosis.
Cooperative Compliance Program. The CCP is part of OSHA's improved inspection targeting system to focus attention on 12,000 employers with lost workday injury and illness rates more than twice the national average. It provides a unique partnership opportunity never nationally available in the past. The positive reaction I received meeting employers throughout the country, and the decision by more than 80 percent of the companies to join the program, are strong evidence the CCP is smart and fair.
Unfortunately, because of a recent court-imposed delay in the CCP's implementation, OSHA must modify its assistance and enforcement plans during this fiscal year. However, OSHA cannot sit by while more workers are injured and made ill at these workplaces. Accordingly, we will continue to offer these 12,000 workplaces our best advice on how to improve their safety and health performance, including technical advice, information and publications, standards interpretations, referrals to consultation and training opportunities. In addition, pending the court's decision, we will design a different inspection system to assure that OSHA enforcement action remains a deterrent to unsafe behavior in the workplace.
COMMON SENSE STANDARDS
Mr. Chairman, in some respects, OSHA's standards setting task is harder today than ever before. Because many of the traditional hazards about which there is widespread agreement have been largely addressed, the remaining issues are often more contentious and complex. They are no less important.
One prime example is musculoskeletal disorders (MSD's). MSD's are the nation's most widespread, serious workplace health problem. More than one-quarter of all workplace injuries and illnesses are MSD's. They account for one-third of all workers' compensation dollars spent by employers. Hundreds of thousands of workers each year are diagnosed with MSD's and find their ability to perform basic tasks fundamentally altered. The time has come to act.
After years of analysis and consideration by OSHA and others, we know too much about what causes MSD's to justify further delay. However, we know better how to solve some ergonomic problems than others. That is why I have instructed OSHA's ergonomics team to focus where the problems are the most severe and where effective solutions are best understood.
During the first week in February, OSHA held its first in a series of stakeholder meetings to discuss the scope of an ergonomics standard. Over the course of three days, the agency had a frank, open dialogue with approximately 200 stakeholders from all corners of labor, industry, academia and government. Participants offered valuable insights about approaches to ergonomic protection. OSHA plans to continue such productive discussions throughout development of an urgently needed and protective ergonomics standard.
I have also directed the agency to move quickly on a draft proposed standard regarding workplace safety and health programs. Although OSHA must continue to address certain individual hazards using specific standards, a more systematic, broad-based approach is needed to maximize worker protection. Consequently, the agency is developing objective performance oriented goals wherever possible, rather than dictating how employers must meet those goals. Our efforts to address issues like ergonomics and safety and health programs will utilize this building block approach.
This being said, however, OSHA's standard-setting tasks are not complete when we issue a standard. An effective, common sense approach to rulemaking includes OSHA's additional efforts to help employers and workers understand and comply with those standards. Therefore, we are expanding the agency's capability to disseminate proposed and final standards through electronic means, such as the OSHA CD-ROM, FAX-ON-DEMAND, and the OSHA Home Page. We are also using plain language in every new standard and rewriting several older standards in plain language, and redoubling our emphasis on educational and outreach efforts. We will continue to build on these efforts to help employers keep their workers safe and healthy.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I reiterate my desire to work with you to advance the cause of healthy, safe, quality workplaces. By using sound enforcement policies, targeted health and safety efforts, cooperative partnerships and common sense, we will help America's workers return home safe and sound after every working day.