REMARKS OF JOSEPH A. DEAR,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND
BEFORE THE US SENATE LABOR AND HUMAN RESOURCES COMMITTEE
JUNE 22, 1995
I am pleased to appear before the Committee today to discuss the mission and record of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. I hope this represents the beginning of our work together to create and build the new OSHA, one that is grounded in good sense and recommitted to fulfilling the OSH Act's original promise of a safe and healthful workplace for all working Americans.
These are times of extraordinary change and challenge for all of us, working every day to make government perform better and cost less, while still ensuring basic protections like workplace safety and health. That is where I hope our discussions will begin, but first let me set the record straight.
In the past few months, we all have heard a lot of troubling stories about OSHA, almost all of it negative, and almost all of it not true. These include stories that OSHA is filled with incompetent inspectors who fine businesses thousands of dollars for nitpicky violations that have little to do with worker safety. There are "horror stories" about overzealous enforcement, about banning the tooth fairy and chewing gum, or the hazards of dishwashing detergent.
I am here today to dispel the false stories, and to tell you about one indisputably true one: OSHA saves lives.
Since its creation in 1970, OSHA has performed an invaluable service to millions of America's working families. Through the agency's protective standards and enforcement program, the workplace fatality rate has declined substantially. Looking at the 23-year period before OSHA, the average annual decline in fatalities was 139; but since OSHA, the decline has improved to 204. Couple these numbers with a more rapid increase in employment since 1970, and the results are even more dramatic--an estimated 27,700 lives saved in 1993 alone. This 57 percent reduction in workplace fatalities since OSHA was created is a unquestionable improvement. Eliminating or shrinking the agency, gutting its enforcement programs, or imposing restrictions that limit our flexibility, would be a terrible tragedy for working men and women.
OSHA's standards have made a real difference--often the difference between life and death---to millions of working people. These standards protect workers from specific hazards and make employers more safety conscious. For example, since OSHA strengthened its trenching rule in 1990, fatalities at trenching and excavation sites have declined by 35 percent. OSHA's lead standard has saved thousands of smelting and battery plant workers from anemia, nerve disorders, seizures, brain damage and even death from prolonged exposure to lead. In the textile industry, the rate of "brown lung" cases--a crippling and sometimes fatal respiratory disease--declined from 40,000 to a few hundred after OSHA issued its cotton dust standard.
Millions of working Americans have also benefitted directly from OSHA's enforcement program. According to a recent study, in the three years following an OSHA inspection and fine, injuries at the inspected worksites 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 percent of its enforcement activities (manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas extraction), while they have remained the same or risen in other industries.
In FY 1994 alone, OSHA inspections helped make over 40,000 workplaces safer for nearly two million working Americans. We must not forget that there are names, faces and families behind each of these statistics, like the scaffold workers at a Cleveland construction site who were working 70 feet above the ground with no safety belts. OSHA inspected the site and insisted that workers wear the equipment. Four days later, the scaffold collapsed, but the workers were saved by their new safety belts.
Or the workers 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. The counsel for Boise Cascade stated, "OSHA played a key role in these accomplishments."
Senator Kassebaum, and members of the Committee, I know you may be considering major changes to our statute and programs over the next few months. I urge you--in the strongest possible terms--not to base your decisions on a handful of anecdotal stories of regulatory excess or enforcement run amok. I urge you--in the strongest possible terms--to double check these stories, to get the facts, and to work with me to correct problems where we find them. And, most importantly, on behalf of America's working families, I urge you to remember that millions of working Americans owe their lives, their health, and their safety to OSHA's protective standards and enforcement efforts.
The simple fact is, our work is far from done. Despite the substantial progress the agency and many responsible employers have made, every year, work-related accidents and illnesses still cost an estimated 56,000 lives. That's more than we lost in battle during the entire nine-year Vietnam war.
On an average day in our country, 17 workers will be killed in safety accidents, and an estimated 137 more die from occupational disease. Just imagine if one plane crashed everyday, killing 150 people. The uproar would be enormous. The public would be outraged and demand action. But since these deaths normally occur one or two at a time, at different worksites around the country, most people just don't notice the problem.
Along with these alarming fatality statistics is the fact that another 16,000 workers are injured everyday on the job, 6,000 of whom are injured seriously enough to lose time from work. In all, safety accidents alone cost our economy over $100 billion a year, and occupational illnesses cost many times more. We all bear these staggering human and monetary 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 at over 6 million workplaces with only 2,300 staff. At the same time, I want to be very forthright and candid about the need to change the agency's culture. When I came to OSHA, I fully recognized that in the past, the agency had at times lost sight of its mission, focusing too much on procedures that appeared adversarial and nitpicky, and not enough on saving lives and preventing injuries. I knew that proceeding with "business as usual" could well put us out of business altogether.
But if there is one single message you take away from this hearing today, I hope it is this: that OSHA is changing the way it does business. As announced by President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary Reich and myself on May 16, OSHA has begun a host of dramatic initiatives to change the agency's culture, and to ensure that we adequately protect workers without imposing unfair burdens on employers.
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.
The New OSHA
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 will be measured by its success in making safety and health improvements.
Second, some employers believe that OSHA's enforcement approach is too confrontational. To address this concern, OSHA is changing its fundamental operating model from one of command and control to one that provides employers with a real choice between a cooperative partnership and a traditional enforcement relationship. This change is designed to separate good actors from bad actors in the safety and health arena, and to treat them differently.
OSHA is currently revising its penalty structure to recognize employers' good faith in assessing fines for unsafe conditions. For example, employers with effective safety and health programs will receive significant reductions where violations are nevertheless found. Ultimately, employers with superior programs, who are making good faith efforts to protect their workers, may receive up to a 100 percent reduction in otherwise appropriate penalties.
In addition, OSHA plans to nationalize the successful features of its "Maine 200" program. In this program, which was instituted in 1993, the 200 Maine companies with the highest number of injuries were offered a choice: work in partnership to improve safety, or face stepped-up enforcement. All but two firms chose partnership. The firms received assistance in developing safety and health programs, and in return were given the lowest priority for inspection (in other words, inspections generally occurred only if there were formal complaints or serious accidents).
The Maine program is extremely promising. In two years, the employers self-identified more than fourteen times as many hazards as would likely have been cited by OSHA inspectors. Nearly six out of ten employers in the program have already reduced their injury and illness rates, even as inspections and fines have significantly diminished.
OSHA will expand the most successful features of this program nationwide. These successful elements include: using worksite-specific data to help identify high-hazard workplaces, offering employers a choice in how they work with OSHA, providing information to employers about effective safety and health programs, conducting efforts to find and fix hazards, ensuring management commitment and employee involvement, and modifying enforcement policies for high-performance employers.
Common Sense Regulations
Third, OSHA is changing its approach to regulations by eliminating or fixing out-of-date and confusing standards, identifying clear and sensible priorities for new rules, focusing on key building block rules, and emphasizing interaction with business and labor in the development of new rules. As part of its effort to implement common sense regulation, OSHA will rewrite many of its standards in plain language.
As you know, President Clinton directed me, and the head of every federal agency, to conduct a page-by-page review of our existing regulations to identify and weed out duplicative, conflicting, or outdated standards. The 90-person OSHA review team met daily for weeks, painstakingly reviewing each of the Agency's 695 rules covering nearly 3,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations. We identified more than 1,000 pages of regulations to be eliminated, and another 1,200 to be reinvented. Many of the rules that need to be revised and simplified are industry consensus standards that were adopted wholesale by OSHA in 1971 and left unchanged since then. Over the years, these specification standards have given rise to large number of complaints from stakeholders and been the source of controversy.
Our page-by-page review process also included input from stakeholders through a series of meetings held during May. Such discussions will continue as we begin the next phase of this process.
We identified a number of problem regulatory provisions that will be fixed quickly. They include:
* Plastic gas cans are allowed in manufacturing worksites but are not allowed on construction sites, even if they have been approved by local fire marshalls.
* Radiation signs must be yellow with purple letters, while DOT allows only those that are black on yellow.
* First aid kits must needlessly be approved by a physician.
Results...Not Red Tape
Fourth, OSHA is changing the way it works on a day-to-day basis, by focusing on the most serious hazards and the most dangerous workplaces and by insisting on results instead of red tape. OSHA inspectors no longer penalize employers who have not put up the required OSHA poster if the employer agrees to post it right away. In addition, we are streamlining OSHA's recordkeeping requirements to improve our data, simplify reporting, reduce paperwork, and give employers greater flexibility. Most importantly, OSHA inspectors have been told clearly that there are no numeric inspection goals and that their performance will be judged not by the number of citations and fines they issue, but by their success in finding and reducing hazards associated with injuries and illnesses.
For example, our recently implemented Focused Inspections in Construction policy allows OSHA to recognize the efforts of safety-conscious employers by conducting our inspections in a more streamlined manner, focusing on the four leading causes of construction fatalities: falls, being struck by something, trench cave-ins, and electrocutions. As part of this policy, we will not issue penalties for "other-than-serious" infractions which are abated immediately.
Focused inspections give us the opportunity to differentiate between "low-road" employers, for whom enforcement is the only way to send a message and "high road" employers who treat their workers as an essential asset to their company's success. Thus, we are exploring an expansion of the focused inspection concept to other industries. Ultimately, the program could allow for a sliding scale for penalties, so that employers with superior safety and health programs could receive up to a 100 percent reduction in their fine. Other employers who have made good faith efforts could also receive a substantial reduction in their penalty. Such changes are enormously important, and a dramatic shift in how OSHA operates.
The new OSHA includes other initiatives that I will not elaborate on here but would be pleased to discuss during the question and answer period. These include redesigning our field offices, expanding our "Quick Fix" policy of reducing fines for immediate abatement, measuring performance in terms of results, strengthening our partnership with our twenty-five OSHA-State partners, and using electronic methods to share useful safety and health information.
In sum, let me again state the bottom line very clearly: OSHA is changing the way it does business. We are addressing the legitimate concerns you and others have raised. At the heart of our effort is a simple principle: develop a broad range of interventions, and treat good actors differently from bad actors. For employers who have made safety and health a priority, and who are looking for a cooperative partnership, offer incentives, compliance assistance, training and education, and recognize their efforts. But for those employers who disregard their workers' safety and health (and unfortunately some still do), retain a strong traditional enforcement program.
I would sincerely welcome the opportunity to work with the Committee to build this new OSHA. I feel confident, based in part on conversations I have had with some of you, that we would find much in common. Ultimately, we will be far more successful if we can work together than if we are forced to work separately. America's hardworking men and women deserve nothing less.