Presented ToThe Subcommittee on Workforce Protections House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Speaker(s)Jeffress, Charles N.
"This document was published prior to the publication of OSHA's final rule on Ergonomics Program (29 CFR 1910.900, November 14, 2000), and therefore does not necessarily address or reflect the provisions set forth in the final standard."
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE PROTECTIONS
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to come before you today to discuss OSHA's efforts to protect workers while forming partnerships with employees and employers. When I appeared before the Subcommittee last April I described how OSHA is changing the way it does business. Today I shall discuss some highlights of the past twelve months as well as my priorities for next year.
OSHA's core mission is to provide a safe and healthy workplace for every working man and woman in the Nation. We are encouraged by the latest occupational injury and illness statistics. For the fifth consecutive year the rate of injuries and illness has declined. In fact the rate for 1997 was the lowest since BLS began reporting this information in the early 1970s. The improvement is particularly impressive in a booming economy when many new and inexperienced workers have entered the workforce. Historically, new employees have been more likely to get hurt on the job than more experienced workers. Much of the credit for the improvement can be attributed to millions of employers and employees working every day to eliminate on-the-job hazards. I am proud that OSHA and its 25 State plan partners have been a catalyst for these private sector efforts, using results-driven enforcement efforts, compliance assistance and commonsense standards to bring about workplace improvements.
Many challenges remain. Even with the decline in rates there were more than 6 million workplace injuries and illnesses in our Nation in 1997. Almost 3 million injuries or illnesses required recuperation away from work or restricted duties on the job. More than 6,000 workers died from on-the-job injuries in 1997 and many thousands more die each year as result of chronic diseases related to occupational exposures to toxic substances.
In order to accomplish the goals of OSHA's Strategic Plan I have established four priorities for the agency for the next fiscal year. They are: (1) Creative partnership; (2) Strong enforcement; (3) Improved rulemaking; (4) Expanded education and outreach. These priorities are designed to enable OSHA to reach the primary FY 2002 goals of our Strategic Plan, which are: (1) a 20 percent reduction in injuries and illnesses in 100,000 workplaces; (2) a 15 percent reduction in injuries and illnesses among five high-hazard industries; (3) a 15 percent reduction in three specific injuries and illnesses -- silicosis, amputations and lead poisoning.
Creative Partnerships. OSHA will continue to form partnerships with workers, employers, insurance companies, safety and health professional groups, trade associations and anyone else interested in improving workplace conditions. Partnerships may be local or nationwide. I have directed each area office to make a special effort to develop a partnership, and I will be asking for reports on their progress. I have also met with representatives of the insurance industry and others to talk about forming nationwide partnerships.
Earlier this month, with the assistance of the Small Business Administration, OSHA held a Small Business Forum here in Washington. The forum showcased information and services available to help small businesses improve safety and health. OSHA plans to follow-up on this conference by holding a series of similar conferences throughout the Nation during National Small Business Week in May.
OSHA joined with industry last November to hold a partnership conference celebrating the positive impact of strategic partnerships on employee protection and lower workers' compensation costs for employers. Secretary of Labor Herman summed up the spirit of the conference when she said:
We've spent 6 years changing the way we do business in the Labor Department -- focusing on results, thinking outside the box, emphasizing cooperation. We've been telling you there's a different OSHA in town. This conference gives you a chance to observe first hand the new ways we've been working together to get results.
In one success highlighted during the conference, OSHA worked with the Steel Erectors' Safety Association of Colorado (SESAC) to enhance education and improve workplace safety. As a consequence, SESAC members have seen positive results. Calcon Constructors, for example, reduced its workers' compensation rate by almost two-thirds, saving sixty-three cents on every dollar in workers' compensation costs as a result of its partnership with OSHA. In addition, since the time Calcon initiated partnership efforts with OSHA in 1992, the company has reduced its rate of injuries and illnesses by over eighty percent.
Another successful partnership is happening in Port Arthur, Texas where the Huntsman Petrochemical Aromatics and Olefins Plant is a member of OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), our primary recognition program for employers. Workers at this site have repeatedly credited VPP participation as one vital factor contributing to improved management and employee relations. The plant's current three-year injury incidence rate is 74 percent below the industry average, and its lost workday rate is 99 percent below average.
OSHA's partnership efforts under VPP continue to increase. We have added 92 sites to the VPP since last year -- an increase of 22 percent -- for a total of 507 Federal and State VPP sites.
We also continue to work closely with our 23 State partners with OSHA-approved State Plans. We have requested funds from the Congress to enable New Jersey to join in that partnership by funding safety and health coverage for its public employees.
In addition, we are establishing partnerships with other Federal agencies. Last July, OSHA signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on grain dust hazards, and more recently, we entered into an agreement with the National Park Service to provide assistance in improving safety and health programs for employees at 10 park sites. These sites will then serve as models for the entire park system.
Strong enforcement. OSHA's credibility requires balance. Not only is partnership important, but the agency must pursue employers who ignore the rules and endanger their employees. While the Cooperative Compliance Program has been stayed pending review by a federal appeals court, OSHA has implemented an interim targeting plan, which is proving very effective at identifying significant cases. This interim targeting program, which OSHA instituted in April 1998, is designed to identify the most hazardous workplaces. Through data supplied to OSHA by employers, OSHA is identifying four times as many significant cases -- those in which proposed penalties are $100,000 or more -- as our old inspection targeting methods. In the coming year we intend to bolster the agency's targeted enforcement efforts.
Improved rulemaking is another priority. OSHA is working smarter in developing standards. I have designated a single leader to be in charge of all standards activity and we will pilot test the use of teams for each project. Where appropriate, OSHA will use negotiated rulemaking and will utilize national consensus and international standards to speed up our rule-making process. Standards will emphasize outcomes and results rather than layers of requirements.
OSHA is continuing to eliminate outdated standards and re-write its rules into plain language. Last April we proposed a revision of overly detailed standards covering dipping and coating operations, which are designed to protect employees from fires and explosions. The new rule will be published shortly. The text has been made much shorter and duplicative requirements have been eliminated. As of June 1998, the agency had eliminated over 1000 pages of outdated or redundant regulations, which will result in savings of almost $10 million annually for employers. This year OSHA will continue to simplify regulations when we issue the final revised rule on exit routes. We will also be doing "lookback" reviews of significant standards to determine how effective they have been in saving lives and whether we should consider changes and revisions.
In December, with broad support, OSHA issued a standard which requires training for more than 1.5 million workers who operate powered industrial trucks. Evaluation of each operator's performance is required as part of initial and refresher training. The rule is expected to prevent 11 deaths and almost 10,000 injuries each year and to save employers $118 million annually from reductions in medical costs, workers compensation and lost output.
This year OSHA plans to publish a proposed rule for safety and health programs and we will finalize a revision of the agency's recordkeeping regulations. These are what we call "building-block standards" because they are fundamental to workplace protection.
Ergonomics is the most important standard we intend to propose this year. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders account for 34 percent of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses. These disorders cost employers $15- $20 billion in workers compensation costs each year, amounting to $1 out of every $3 spent on workers' compensation. Yet this problem is preventable. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has found compelling evidence that interventions can avert disabling injuries. The Nation's leading professional society of occupational physicians, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), has urged us to move forward. In a letter to OSHA of February 15 ACOEM stated that there is "an adequate scientific foundation for OSHA to proceed with a Proposal and, therefore, no reason for OSHA to delay...." OSHA has spent the last several years talking to hundreds of business people who have responded to problems by implementing successful ergonomic programs in their workplaces. Clearly, as so many employers, workers, and scientists have already learned, ergonomics programs work. The draft ergonomics proposal OSHA released last month for the purposes of the SBREFA process incorporates the basic features of successful ergonomics programs already used by many businesses to reduce their musculoskeletal injuries/illnesses.
Expanded education and outreach
The largest single program increase in the FY 2000 OSHA budget request is for compliance assistance. OSHA plans to place a compliance assistance specialist in each Federal area office, to provide advice and assistance to businesses, particularly small business employers. This staff will be devoted exclusively to providing general advice on regulations and programs in response to requests by employers, employees, and others in their community. OSHA also seeks increased funding for the Susan Harwood Training Grant program to address priority areas in the Strategic Plan.
OSHA's interactive software advisors continue to be extremely popular. The advisors, which are available on OSHA's Web Page, offer instant assistance in complying with OSHA standards. The latest additions are the Hazard AwarenessAdvisor, which is designed to help employees and employers, especially small businesses, locate hazards in their workplace, and Safety Pays, which shows employers the impact that occupational injuries and illness can have on the company's bottom line.
We also released three new, major publications last year, to help employers understand OSHA's regulations. They include a guide to scaffold use in the construction industry; a guide for small business employers to assess the need for use of personal protective equipment in their workplaces; and a booklet on protection for healthcare workers who respond to emergencies involving chemical, biological, or radioactive hazards.
In another effort to expand our compliance assistance for employers OSHA issued a new directive on the Hazard Communication Standard allowing employers to provide Material Safety Data Sheets to their employees electronically so that they are aware of chemical hazards and protective measures.
Enhanced Whistleblower Protection. To ensure that America's workers can exercise their rights under the OSH Act without fear of retaliation, the Administration is considering ways to strengthen the OSH Act's whistleblower protection. There is evidence that many workers do not feel free to complain about unsafe conditions and that some employers feel they can retaliate against whistleblowers with impunity.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that the "New OSHA" has an impressive story to tell. Since the agency was reinvented in 1995 we have seen injury/illness rates decline while OSHA has achieved a careful balance between enforcement and cooperation. OSHA's programs are combining tough enforcement, creative partnership and results-driven management. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today and to outline OSHA's success and its priorities for FY 2000.