Presented ToHouse Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities Subcommittee on Workforce Protections
Speaker(s)Dear, Joseph A.
STATEMENT OF JOSEPH A. DEAR
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE PROTECTIONS
MARCH 8, 1995
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for this opportunity to evaluate the mission and record of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 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 nitpicking 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. These stories make great "one-minute" speeches on the House floor, and they have fueled much of the deregulatory frenzy that is gripping the Congress.
If these stories were true, and that was the whole picture, I might be advocating many of these drastic changes myself. Butvirtually 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 innearly 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. OSHA does not require Material Safety Data Sheets for the normal use of consumer products like Joy; workers bust be informed of risks only when they are regularly exposed to substances in ways 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 benefitted 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.
The record is clear: 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 disease, 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. It is a daunting challenge: we must somehow protect over 93 million workers Et over 6 million workplaces with only 2300 staff. In addition, we must also recognize that in the past, the agency has at times lost sight of its mission, focusing too much on adversarial, nitpicking processes, and not enough on saving lives. I would now like to tell you about our goals for addressing these problems, and how we are translating these goals into action.
Our goals are simple. First, we must reinvent the agency, stripping away unnecessary regulations and processes, and refocusing on real improvements in worker safety and health. Second, we must increase and strengthen our efforts to provide compliance assistance to the majority of employers who want to protect their workers. And third, we must target our limited enforcement efforts at the worst hazards and worksites, so that we can save the most lives for the least dollars. Now let me tell you what we have already done to advance these goals.
Inspection and Penalty Quotas. First, 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 in the past used citations and penalties as performance measures. I have put a stop to this practice. OSHA's performance is now measured by its success in making safety and health improvements.
Burdensome Regulations. Second, OSHA published a request in the Federal Register last October, 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 life and limb.
Too Much Paperwork. Third, OSHA has been in the forefront of the Administration's efforts to reinvent and streamline government. We are changing the conduct of the everyday business at the agency by redesigning our field offices to respond to workers' complaints faster, provide more assistance to employers, and focus more on getting results rather than filling out forms. We intend to propose streamlining OSHA's recordkeeping requirements, to improve our data, simplify reporting, and give employers greater flexibility.
Confrontational approach. Fourth, some employers believe that OSHA's enforcement approach is too confrontational. OSHA is changing this attitude and creating incentives for business to improve workplace safety and health. 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. We have already set up a similar program in Wisconsin, and we are looking to expand it further.
Helping Small Businesses. Fifth, 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 have requested additional funds to increase that number to 25,000 in FY96.
Recognizing Excellence. Sixth, OSHA is expanding recognition programs for workplaces with strong management commitment to worker safety and health. For example, in 1994, we added over 80 new sites to our Voluntary Protection programs, expanding them by 70 percent.
Safety and Health Programs. Seventh, OSHA is working closely in partnership with key business and labor groups to develop a proposed rule for safety and health programs. This proposed rule builds on the two most fundamental elements of a safe workplace: management commitment and worker involvement. The rule will be written in plain, easy to follow language, and will give employers flexibility to respond to their own specific conditions. We expect it to become the basic foundation for all future workplace safety and health efforts. OSHA, in partnership with business and labor groups, will use a wide range of outreach, education and training to help employers set up these programs.
Targeting. Eighth, we are refocusing 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 in Construction, those construction employers who maintain a comprehensive safety and health program will only be inspected far the four types of hazards that constitute the leading causes of deaths in the industry (falls, electrocutions, trenches, and being struck by machines or materials). We are about to begin the work of developing similar focused inspection programs for general industry. In addition, OSHA is about to launch national "special emphasis" enforcement programs to deal with four particularly serious hazards--tuberculosis, lead exposure in construction, confined spaces, and lockout/tagout.
In sum, OSHA is working hard to sharpen 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.
OSHA now faces a number of potential obstacles to continued progress on reinvention and compliance assistance initiatives. First, the Congress is moving so fast to "deregulate" industry that there is a serious danger of destroying many very valuable programs. The House has already passed regulatory moratorium and regulatory reform bills that would seriously impede OSHA's ability to protect workers. And last week the House Appropriations Committee cut our FY95 budget by $16 million.
OSHA reform presents an opportunity to advance the cause of worker safety. In contrast, overreaction to the current raft of exaggerated and untrue stories will cost the lives and health of millions of workers and devastate their families. Secretary Reich stated our position before the full committee a few weeks ago: "If you think working Americans don't deserve protection in the workplace, I can promise you a fight. But if you think Americans are rightly demanding that we do these things efficiently, creatively, and accountably, I can promise you a partner." Mr. Chairman, I hope that we can work together as partners in the effort to protect America's working families from unnecessary workplace tragedies.