ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON LABOR, HEALTH, AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
MARCH 23, 2000
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to appear today to discuss the President's Fiscal Year 2001 budget request for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I welcome this opportunity to continue our dialogue concerning OSHA's efforts to protect workers while forming partnerships with employers and employees.
Once again I come before you with good news. The overall occupational injury and illness rate measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is the lowest since OSHA was created -- 6.7 per 100 workers. This marks the sixth consecutive year of injury/illness decline and is particularly impressive as the Nation's booming economy brings in millions of new workers each year. Studies have demonstrated that new and inexperienced workers are more likely to suffer injuries on the job than more experienced employees. Most interesting is the comparison of the injury/illness rate in recent years with the rate in the past. From 1973 to 1992 the overall rate declined by 19%. Remarkably, in the last six years -- from 1993 through 1998 -- the injury/illness rate dropped 21%.
OSHA has made important strides through reinvention and strategic planning. We finished reinventing our field offices last year and have also completed a successful national office pilot project to improve the agency's standard-writing process. More importantly, I am extremely encouraged that we are seeing improvements in hazards and industries targeted by OSHA's Strategic Plan. As you know, the plan sets ambitious goals for reducing workplace injuries and illnesses in the most dangerous industries and for the most serious hazards. We have met and exceeded many of these goals. For instance, there have been significant reductions in the lost workday rates over the past three years in each of the five industries we have targeted: shipyards, food processing, construction, logging and nursing homes. In the logging industry, workplace injuries were reduced by 28% and shipyards saw a 22% reduction. Average exposure to silica, one of the most prevalent causes of workplace illness and a targeted health hazard, was reduced by 39%. Another challenging goal set by OSHA was to reduce injuries and illnesses by 20% in at least 25,000 workplaces where we initiated an intervention, such as an inspection, consultation visit, or partnership. We have exceeded this goal, achieving the goal in 50,000 of these workplaces. To extend the strategic management approach each of the 25 State OSHA programs has now adopted a Strategic Plan with overall goals similar to Federal OSHA but with the flexibility to address the most pressing hazards in its jurisdiction.
Mr. Chairman, OSHA is making real progress in protecting American workers from on-the-job hazards. However, in 1998 there were still almost 6 million injuries and illnesses and more than 6,000 fatalities in our Nation's workplaces. To continue our success in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses the President is requesting a budget for OSHA of $426 million for FY 2001, an increase of $44.4 million from our current budget. The budget strikes the appropriate balance between enforcement and compliance assistance programs, and provides an increase of approximately $12 million for both types of activity.
To achieve the goals of OSHA's Strategic Plan, I have established the following priorities for the coming year, which continue the priorities I discussed with you last year: (1) Expanded Outreach and Training; (2) Creative partnerships; (3) Strong Enforcement; (4) Improved Rulemaking.
Expanded Outreach and Training. Our goal is to have a compliance assistance specialist in each local OSHA office, who can serve as a point of contact for employers and employees seeking information about workplace safety and health or seeking specific training for their workplace. These specialists will be particularly valuable to small business employers because many of them cannot afford the safety expertise of a large corporation. With your support we created 34 compliance assistance positions in OSHA offices this year and we hope to add 33 more in FY 2001. In addition, we are requesting funds to hire ten ergonomics experts -- one for each region -- who will be available to assist employers and employees in establishing effective ergonomics programs.
OSHA is requesting an additional $3 million for the Susan Harwood Training Grants. which fund employer organizations, unions, and non-profit groups to develop safety and health expertise. The additional funds will be focused on organizations that can assist entry-level, contingent and non-English speaking workers as well as the special needs of small business employers. Training funds will enable OSHA to increase our language-appropriate resources so that all workers will benefit from outreach and education efforts. In one such effort last Spring OSHA released a Spanish-language version of its Heat Stress and Cold Stress cards that warn workers, particularly those in agriculture and construction, about the signs and symptoms of temperature-related hazards.
OSHA's on-site consultation program, codified during the 105th Congress, continues to be popular with small business employers, who receive free advice upon request. We are asking for an additional $4 million to increase the number of visits by 3,200 in FY 2001, bringing the total consultation visits to 30,700.
In addition, modern advances in communications technology promise to help OSHA enhance its education and compliance assistance activities even further. For example, OSHA is seeking $2.5 million for technology-enabled training, including computer/web-based training and satellite teletraining for compliance officers and consultation staff. This initiative will allow us to train more Federal and State compliance officers and to deliver more training to employers and workers at their job sites. Over time, technology-enabled training will both reduce training costs and improve OSHA's training capabilities.
In another effort to capitalize on technology, OSHA continues to use our website to provide information to the public on OSHA standards, partnerships, initiatives, and other safety and health topics. OSHA's website is well-used. In FY 99 over 7 million visitors logged on to the site, resulting in 177 million "hits." The agency has also launched a website dedicated solely to providing small business employers with assistance and the latest safety and health information. The site provides information as well as links to OSHA's interactive software advisors, the on-site consultation program, and easy-to-read-guides to OSHA standards. Since September of last year we have finalized interactive advisors on fire safety, hazard awareness and lead in construction, and updated our cadmium advisor. We have also issued public test versions of five additional advisors, three of which (respirator standard, lock-out tag-out and lead in general industry) should be final soon. With the requested increase, OSHA will be able to develop additional expert advisors to help employers protect their workers.
Creative Partnerships. One of the hallmarks of the "New OSHA" has been the partnerships we have established with industry and labor. There are now 66 partnerships covering more than 4,500 employers and 131,000 employees. OSHA's compliance assistance specialists help create partnerships with business organizations, unions, and community outreach groups. OSHA may partner with a specific company, as it did with ConAgra Refrigerated Foods in a partnership that fosters a culture of safety in each of its plants. ConAgra has seen injury rate reductions of 25-40% in the plants enrolled in the partnership and is anticipating workers' compensation savings of more than $2 million in 1999. This partnership's success has gained industry attention and the results have been discussed at national conferences. ConAgra has demonstrated that an effective safety and health program is not only good for employees, it is good for the bottom line.
Other partnerships may be industry-specific, such as the agreement with the Scrap Metal Association in Rhode Island, through which average Lost Workday Injury/Illness rates dropped from 19 per 100 workers to 9 in facilities covered by the agreement. Still other partnerships draw upon a variety of participants.
In February OSHA signed a partnership agreement with the Associated Building Contractors (ABC). We intend that this agreement will be an industry-wide model for OSHA and construction contractors to improve safety on construction job sites. First the ABC will recognize contractors who achieve a "platinum" safety designation. This level of safety requires an injury/illness rate less than the industry average, a site-specific safety and health program, training specific to the hazards of employees' jobs, and designated safety personnel who will receive instruction equivalent to that provided by OSHA's own construction safety training course. OSHA's local offices may then form partnerships with these contractors. OSHA may conduct a verification visit but then will not conduct programmed inspections of the worksite for a year. The agency will not issue penalties for non-serious violations that are abated within the required time period and will handle non-formal complaints by telephone and fax.
Another form of partnership is the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) which now includes almost 600 worksites. In 1999 VPP participation grew by 19 percent. VPP is OSHA's premier recognition program with worksites that have injury/illness rates well below the average for their industries. This year the first nursing home facility joined the VPP and was recognized for its safety and health excellence.
In addition to our request for Federal compliance assistance funds, OSHA is asking for an additional $3 million to assist State OSHA programs in creating partnerships, conducting inspections and expanding their own outreach services. Finally, the budget includes $1.8 million for a public-employee protection program for New Jersey's more than 500,000 State and local government workers.
OSHA is also doing more to reach out to small business. On April 5 we will hold another in a series of small business conferences with participation by individual employers and representatives from small business associations. At this session OSHA will offer "hands-on" advice on how to implement a safety and health program in a small business and will update employers on regulations under development. In another effort to increase such "hands-on" assistance, I have established an award for OSHA employees who do the best job in providing outreach to small businesses.
Strong Enforcement. Last year OSHA initiated its Site-Specific Targeting program, which focuses our inspections on the worksites with the highest injury and illness rates. These sites are identified from a universe of about 80,000 workplaces in hazardous industries, which send injury and illness data to OSHA. Last Spring we sent letters to about 12,000 sites, letting them know that they had high injury/illness rates. In April 1999 OSHA placed 2,200 of these sites on our programmed inspection list. We anticipate placing somewhat more than 3,000 sites on this year's list. In an attempt to reach more of these dangerous workplaces in the future, OSHA is requesting an additional $5.4 million and 63 FTE. With the additional compliance officers OSHA can conduct approximately 4,000 site-specific inspections in FY 2001. Targeted inspections usually uncover a greater number of serious safety and health violations than other kinds of inspections. However, they are resource-intensive, consuming an average of 55 hours for a safety inspection versus 22 hours for other safety inspections. If we want to provide better protection in the most dangerous workplaces, OSHA needs more compliance officers.
OSHA's site-specific inspection targeting system covers only general industry workplaces, not construction. However, construction is a hazardous industry. Six percent of the Nation's workers are employed in this industry but nearly 20 percent of all workplace fatalities occur there. Our budget request includes $1 million to begin a construction data initiative that will help us identify contractors with the highest rate of workplace injuries and illnesses.
OSHA is also placing additional emphasis on protecting Federal workers. In July 1999, the President announced the Federal Worker 2000 Presidential Initiative, which directs the Secretary of Labor to lead a 5-year initiative to reduce injuries and illnesses in Federal workplaces. The initiative's goals include reducing the overall occurrence of injuries to Federal workers by 3% per year, with a 10% reduction in the sites that have the highest rates of serious injuries.
Finally, we are also requesting additional resources for more staff to respond to the increasing number of whistleblower complaints under the OSH Act and other whistleblower statutes enforced by OSHA. If workers are to exercise their right to a safe and healthful workplace they must be protected from retaliation or discrimination by their employers. As the Department of Labor's Inspector General pointed out several years ago, workers, particularly in small companies, are vulnerable to reprisals by employers for complaining about unsafe or unhealthy work conditions. Strengthening whistleblower protection is one of the Administration's highest priorities for OSHA.
Improved Rulemaking. Our budget request seeks an additional $2 million for standard-setting. We propose to use $1.5 million to conduct two major surveys. The first survey will examine current industry safety practices. The second is a NIOSH study on high-risk workers which OSHA will support. These surveys will help us gather important information about current industry practices, identify sound economic and scientific data, and prioritize standard-setting where it is needed the most.
OSHA's priority standards are ergonomics, revision of the recordkeeping rule, and occupational exposure to tuberculosis. Musculoskeletal disorders remain the single largest cause of work-related injury and illness in America, comprising about one-third of all cases. Many companies in general industry are already implementing effective ergonomic programs that protect their employees from musculoskeletal disorders. We believe that a standard is needed to bring this protection to the remaining employees in general industry workplaces who are at significant risk of harm but who are not yet protected by ergonomics programs.
The President's budget request reflects the agency's balanced approach to ensuring worker safety and health. It continues our commitment to helping employers who want to do the right thing. OSHA continues to develop partnerships with those who are committed to improving workplace safety and health, target more inspections toward the most dangerous workplaces, and promulgate effective standards to deal with emerging problems. I am very proud of the results delivered by the "New OSHA" since 1995. Our budget request will enable us to make continued progress in protecting America's workforce. I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today and am happy to answer any questions you may have.