Presented ToHouse Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies
Speaker(s)Watchman, Gregory R.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Fiscal Year 1998 appropriation request. Today, I would like to update you as to the status of New OSHA initiatives, and tell you how the agency's FY 98 request will advance the New OSHA and better protect the health and safety of American workers.
I became Acting Assistant Secretary in January. My first week on the job provided a quick reminder of why many American workers need their government's help. On Monday, January 13, my first day on the job, a steel erection worker in Pennsylvania fell 250 feet to his death, and in Ohio, a 22-year-old die casting worker was crushed to death inside a hydraulic injection machine. On Tuesday, a young maintenance worker fell through a roof to his death in Illinois. On Wednesday, a 27-year-old unloading coal in Oregon was crushed beneath the wheels of a coal car, and in Texas a worker lost his leg when it got caught in an augur at a rendering plant. On Thursday, another Texan fell to his death in a roofing accident. On Friday, two highway paving workers were struck by a vehicle and killed in Florida, four Illinois workers were hospitalized after being overcome by nitric oxide fumes, and a construction worker in Mississippi was killed when struck by a diesel pile hammer.
I relate these incidents to remind us that too many of America's working families are suffering tragedies such as these, and that the agency's mission is to ensure a safe and healthful workplace for every working American. We have made much progress toward that goal; the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that in 1995 workplace injury and illness rates declined for the fourth straight year. But as I learned during my first week on the job, too many workers are still dying, and our work is far from done.
As Acting Assistant Secretary, I am pursuing the agency's mission in two ways: (1) by carrying out the agency's statutory responsibility to promulgate and enforce protective standards, and (2) by implementing President Clinton's New OSHA initiative to offer employers a choice between partnership and traditional enforcement, instill common sense in OSHA's regulatory and enforcement policies, and focus on results rather than red tape. Through the President's initiative, the New OSHA is making substantial changes, fostering cooperative programs with employers and workers; expanding its use of compliance assistance, outreach, education and training; leveraging the agency's limited resources; and improving our ability to protect those workers most in danger. Together, these programs have won a number of awards, and demonstrated some very promising early results. Ultimately, the agency's goal is to ensure worker protection through an appropriate balance of fair and consistent enforcement, cooperative partnerships, compliance assistance and training.
Effecting real and lasting change in a government agency takes time. The New OSHA is developing these new programs carefully, with substantial input from employers and workers. The agency is testing new ideas through pilots to discover what works and what doesn't, adjusting them to reflect this experience, and only then implementing them across the nation. In order to continue these efforts in FY 1998, the agency is requesting a total budget of $347.8 million -- a net increase of $22.8 million. Let me briefly describe our progress in implementing the New OSHA, and how this request will help speed the completion of this effort.
PARTNERSHIP AND COMPLIANCE ASSISTANCE
For years, OSHA's principal intervention tools were inspections, citations and penalties, and many complained that responsible employers were treated the same as neglectful ones. Today, the New OSHA offers employers a clear choice between traditional enforcement and other new and expanded intervention tools such as partnership, compliance assistance, outreach and training. The agency is seeking $8.4 million to build on this commitment: $4.3 million to offer expanded compliance assistance, outreach, and partnership activities, and $4.1 million to enhance the agency's training and education grants program.
Cooperative Compliance Programs. Many of the New OSHA's new programs have a significant partnership component, and are demonstrating very positive early results. For example, Cooperative Compliance Programs ("CCPs"), grew out of the award-winning Maine 200 program, which was an enforcement-based, data driven program intended to identify and work with employers who had the highest number or rate of compensable injuries or illnesses in the State. Fifteen states now have similar CCP's: nine run by federal OSHA, and six by state OSH agencies. Under the Wisconsin CCP, the 200 participating employers reduced their injury rates by an average of 29.5 percent, and over half reduced their rates enough to be removed from the original list. Preliminary results from the Dakota First program are also encouraging; 27 of the participating employers have experienced a reduction in injury and illness rates of more than 50 percent. OSHA anticipates expansion of the CCP program to all federal states in FY 98, and will encourage state OSH agencies to establish similar programs.
Local Emphasis Programs. In addition to the national CCP effort, the New OSHA has established Local Emphasis Programs (LEP's). For example, the "Cowtown" project involved a partnership with 27 high hazard manufacturing firms in Forth Worth. More than half of these employers reduced their injury and illness rates; eleven reduced their rates by more than 25%, and 5 reduced their rates by more than 50%. Similarly, in Savannah OSHA worked with local pulp and paper mills to identify and correct 2500 hazards in less than one year; the agency's previous enforcement-only approach had identified only 159 hazards in the preceding 4 years. In Kansas, OSHA worked with employers and workers to reduce fatalities in the oil and gas industry. There were 62 fatalities in the 15 years before the project began, but in the 17 months since then, there have been no fatalities -- an unqualified success by any measure.
Voluntary Protection Programs. Last year, the Congress asked OSHA to continue placing a high priority on its Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which recognizes worksites around the country for excellence in safety and health. As you know, this program has achieved great results: VPP "Star" participants, for example, have comprehensive safety and health programs and injury rates 53% below the national average. I am pleased to report that, consistent with the interest expressed by the Congress, VPP participation has grown by 52 percent since January 1996, to a total of 294 federal sites and 42 state sites -- a total of 336 sites.
Small Business Assistance. The New OSHA recognizes that small employers face unique challenges in protecting their workers. In addition to the agency's consultation programs, which provide free advice to roughly 25,000 small employers annually, the agency has taken steps to provide increased compliance assistance to small businesses. First, consistent with its obligations under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), the agency issues simple, plain language compliance guides to help businesses understand new agency rules. Where feasible, the agency works with employers and workers to develop these materials; the recent OSHA/National Association of Homebuilders handbook represents a fine example.
Second, the New OSHA is leveraging resources by encouraging private organizations to help small employers protect workers. For example, under a new training program, professional safety and health organizations have joined with the agency to help train small employers and their workers in 12 pilot projects around the country. Similarly, the New OSHA and the Small Business Administration have developed a VPP program under which members volunteer their own resources to help small businesses improve their safety and health programs. In Linden, New Jersey, for example, an Exxon facility mentored four small employers to reduce their injury rates and help them qualify for VPP status.
Training and Education Grants. The agency's training grants provide opportunities to universities, trade associations, labor/management committees, labor unions, and community-based organizations to develop and deliver training for workers in hazard recognition. The agency awards these grants with a preference for applicants who will serve small businesses. In addition, these grants help to leverage resources, in two ways. First, the "train the trainer" approach has a multiplier effect, reaching many more workers than those originally trained. For example, one grantee trained 500 hospital trainers on bloodborne pathogens, and these 500 trainers, at no cost to the agency, then returned to their hospitals and trained an additional 175,000 employees. Second, often training grants lead to funding from other sources. The agency is seeking an additional $4.1 million to expand its grant program to address a broader range of hazards, assist more small employers, and protect additional workers.
Using Technology to Improve Customer Service. The New OSHA is using the Internet and CD-ROM technology to improve service to employers and workers alike. First, the agency's CD-ROM is the government's best-seller, with over 64,000 copies distributed annually. Second, the agency has made thousands of pages of compliance assistance materials, technical information and protective standards available on the Internet. These Internet offerings include interactive "expert advisors," which use simple question & answer formats to help employers and workers address hazards such as asbestos, cadmium, lead, and confined spaces. The New OSHA's World Wide Web Home Page has received over one million "hits" since its installation.
SMARTER, FAIRER ENFORCEMENT
The New OSHA is premised not only on cooperation, but on maintaining a strong and credible enforcement presence. Although most employers make good faith efforts to protect their workers, many others do little or nothing. Thus, a credible enforcement effort remains an important intervention tool and an effective deterrent. In addition, without a strong enforcement program far fewer employers would seek partnership or compliance assistance.
Targeting. The New OSHA has a host of initiatives designed to make our enforcement program smarter and better. First, for years OSHA's critics complained that the agency spent too much time inspecting relatively safe workplaces and too little time in the most hazardous ones. This occurred, in part, because OSHA only had access to industry-wide data, and could not separate safe workplaces from unsafe ones within a given industry. In response, the New OSHA has worked with stakeholders to develop a new targeting system based on worksite-specific data. The agency plans to use this data for enforcement, compliance assistance, outreach, training and other activities.
Focus on Systematic Approaches. Other enforcement initiatives are designed to move the agency's focus away from individual technical violations, and toward a more systematic, ongoing approach to worker protection. For example, we are piloting a new penalty system that grants employers up to an eighty percent reduction for having an effective safety and health program. The agency hopes to begin implementation of this new system this summer.
We are also emphasizing systematic approaches under a construction industry program called Focused Inspections. If the agency finds an effective safety and health program at a construction worksite, it will conduct only a limited-scope inspection to assess the four hazards most likely to cause injury or death. This program has been applauded by the construction industry.
Relief for Small Employers. The agency's new penalty system will also provide help for small businesses in two ways: (1) by reducing penalties up to eighty percent based on size, and (2) by waiving penalties for other-than-serious violations for employers with 250 or fewer employees if the employer has no willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations.
Fewer Paperwork Citations. In addition to meeting statutory goals for paperwork reduction, the New OSHA continues to shift the agency's focus away from paperwork violations not directly related to safety and health, toward serious hazards, themselves. Historically, OSHA's standards on hazard communication, injury and illness recordkeeping, and posters have constituted the vast majority of the agency's paperwork citations of concern to employers. But between 1992 and 1996, citations for these requirements declined by 82 percent. Our experience during the first quarter of FY 97 indicates that this trend is continuing.
Serious Consequences for Serious Violators. While many employers protect their workers adequately on their own, or choose partnership, compliance assistance or consultation to help them do so, many others do not. The New OSHA is developing new targeting techniques to help find those worksites where workers are most in need of protection. Notably, the number of "significant" enforcement cases -- those with penalties of at least $100,000 -- is increasing as a result, sending a strong prevention and deterrence message to employers who operate unsafe workplaces.
Enforcement Response Teams. The New OSHA is seeking a $7.1 million increase in federal enforcement, to establish enforcement response teams (ERT's) in area offices. These teams, developed through the field office redesign program, will enable the agency to respond more immediately to worker complaints, referrals, and incidents. In many of these situations, workers are exposed to severe hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm, and a more rapid response will ensure better and faster protection. In short, speed saves lives.
ERT's will also use worksite-specific data to ensure protection of workers at the most hazardous worksites through targeted inspections. In conducting such inspections, and in responding to complaints, referrals and incidents, ERT's will provide technical assistance to employers to help them solve long-term safety and health problems.
COMMON SENSE STANDARDS
The New OSHA is instilling common sense in its regulatory process by involving employers, workers and safety and health professionals in regulatory partnerships, by basing protective standards on consensus whenever possible, and by rewriting old standards (as well as writing new ones) in plain language. As part of this effort, the New OSHA is listening more closely than ever to the concerns of small businesses, consistent with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act.
Regulatory Partnerships. Here are a few examples of the agency's regulatory partnerships:
* Formal negotiated rulemakings with industry and workers on Steel Erection and Fire Protection in Shipyards * A standard on 1,3-Butadiene (a carcinogen used in rubber production) based on an informal regulatory partnership between the agency, major unions in the rubber industry and industry associations * A voluntary agreement with unions, employer associations and equipment manufacturers in the asphalt paving industry to reduce worker exposure to asphalt fumes * Regulatory partnerships with construction and maritime advisory committees (comprised of employers, workers and safety and health professionals) for the development of safety and health program proposals * A voluntary agreement with employers for the reduction of exposures to styrene, a carcinogenic workplace substance.
The New OSHA is also rewriting into plain language some 600 pages of existing protective standards which were based on industry consensus standards. This effort benefits employers and employees alike. Six projects are currently underway: (1) Exit Routes; (2) Spray Applications; (3) Dipping or Coating Operations; (4) Flammable and Combustible Liquids; (5) Hand and Portable Powered Tools; and (6) Mechanical Power-Transmission Apparatus. To accelerate this process, the agency's FY 98 budget request includes an additional $425,000 for rewriting standards in plain language.
Repetitive Stress Injuries. Repetitive stress injuries and other forms of musculoskeletal disorders remain the nation's most serious workplace health problem, accounting for 62% of workplace illnesses and an estimated one-third of all workers' compensation costs. As such, the OSH Act compels the agency to make efforts to protect workers from such injuries.
At the same time, the agency has changed its approach to this problem, in two significant ways. First, rather than focusing primarily on a rule, the agency has adopted a broad-based, four-part strategy that includes education, research, enforcement and the development of a proposed protective standard. For example, the agency's recent Ergonomics Conference in Chicago was a good step forward, bringing together over 1000 employers, worker representatives and health professionals to share best practices that not only reduced injuries but saved money as well. Second, with regard to a protective standard, the agency is beginning work on a new proposal, in order to facilitate a comprehensive debate within the regulated community through extensive hearings and written comments. Ultimately, the agency will develop a carefully tailored proposal, based on consensus to the extent feasible, that addresses those workplaces where the hazards are most serious, and where effective solutions are known.
RESULTS, NOT RED TAPE
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the New OSHA is committed to results, not red tape. The agency is developing strategic goals, measurement criteria and a data collection system to assess its performance during the next five years. Under the Government Performance Results Act (GPRA), the agency will monitor results, quantify and evaluate successes and failures, identify the most efficient program mix, and develop programs and policies based on outcome data. Ultimately, the agency's achievements will be measured in terms of lives saved, injuries avoided, and improvements in working conditions, rather than by the numbers of inspections, citations and penalties.
In conclusion, I want to assure you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, that until a new Assistant Secretary is confirmed, I will carry out the agency's statutory responsibilities, and continue to implement President Clinton's New OSHA initiative. American workers are getting no "break" from workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses; the agency can't afford to take a break from its mission of protecting them.