Presented ToSubcommittee on Public Health and Safety
Speaker(s)Watchman, Gregory R.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss how the New OSHA is improving safety and health in our nation's workplaces. I am pleased to be here today to discuss OSHA's progress toward reinvention, what we have learned from our efforts, and the challenges we continue to face.
When OSHA began reinventing itself a few years ago, there were many skeptics. Some questioned our commitment to protecting workers' safety and health. Others questioned our commitment to partnership and cooperation with employers. But the New OSHA has made steady progress. The Agency's reinvention efforts have helped foster innovative ways of doing business and promoting worker protection. We take pride in our accomplishments and continue exploring new worker-protection approaches, but OSHA is well aware that there is more to do.
Too many of America's working families suffer work-related tragedies every day. Despite the progress that has been made since OSHA's inception in 1970, six thousand Americans die each year from workplace injuries. Tens of thousands more die from illnesses caused by workplace exposures, and millions more suffer non-fatal workplace injuries. Injuries alone cost U.S. businesses over $110 billion annually.
OSHA's core mission is to ensure a safe and healthful workplace for every working American. We are making progress; the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that in 1995 workplace injury and illness rates declined for the fourth straight year. But more must be done to protect our nation's workers, and to seek methods that avoid placing unnecessary burdens on employers. Through reinvention, OSHA is developing new strategies that leverage the agency's limited resources and, in many cases, re-shape how OSHA interacts with employers and workers to promote safe and healthy work environments.
OSHA is pursuing its 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.
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.
Cooperative Compliance Programs. Many of 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 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.
While these results are promising, development and expansion of the CCP program has not been without its difficulties. For example, the original CCP selection criteria was based on worker's compensation data. The original targeting efforts under the program encountered difficulties, because states' workers compensation data collection practices differ. We have also worked to ensure that CCP's are less paperwork intensive than the initial program. OSHA anticipates expanding the CCP program to all federal states by FY 98, and will encourage state OSH agencies to establish similar programs. We are continuing to work with stakeholders on program refinements, and will continue doing so as experience teaches us more.
Home Grown Initiatives. In addition to the national CCP effort, OSHA's local offices are getting results using innovative approaches. The New OSHA uses Local Emphasis Programs (LEP's) and other local initiatives to address locally-identified workplace safety and health problems. For example, the "Cowtown" project involved a partnership with 27 high hazard manufacturing firms in Fort 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 is working with local pulp and paper mills to identify and correct hazards. The agency's previous enforcement-only approach identified only 159 hazards in the 4 years before the project was implemented. Since that time, the partnership has identified and corrected 3492 hazards. Another local partnership occurred in Kansas, where 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 20 months since the partners began sharing data, conducting training and targeting enforcement efforts, there have been no fatalities--an unqualified success by any measure.
Voluntary Protection Programs. As urged by Congress, OSHA continues to place 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. VPP participation has grown by more than 50 percent since January 1996, to a total of 310 federal sites and 46 state sites--a grand total of 356 sites.
Small Business Assistance. The New OSHA recognizes that small employers face unique challenges in protecting their workers. First and foremost among the agency's small business assistance efforts is the OSHA Consultation Program. This program provides, upon request from individual firms, free, on-site assistance to help employers comply with OSHA regulations. The Consultation Program is available nationwide through grants to state government agencies, enabling OSHA to tailor compliance assistance to companies' specific circumstances. During the past five years, OSHA has conducted over 100,000 compliance assistance visits and has helped employers identify and control over a half a million hazards and violations.
OSHA also provides other resources to assist 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.
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 several pilot projects around the country. Similarly, the New OSHA, the Voluntary Protection Plan Participants Association and the Small Business Administration have expanded the existing mentoring program under which participants 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, training grants sometimes lead to funding from other sources.
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 on regulations and technical information 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 OSHA's acclaimed 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.
GRIP. The New OSHA's Getting Results and Improving Performance is helping OSHA improve its approach to reducing injuries, illnesses, and deaths, and improve the agency's overall effectiveness. A team of OSHA's most respected and knowledgeable front-line managers and employees is helping field staff implement a comprehensive information plan to better respond to the public and identify innovative workplace safety and health strategies. Using GRIP, OSHA is creating model offices that: (1) develop strategic approaches to improving workplace safety and health; (2) create an Organizational Structure that Supports Change; (3) improve complaint, inspection, information and other processes within field offices; and (4) measure results.
Targeting. The New OSHA is making our enforcement program smarter and better. 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 by the end of this fiscal year.
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.
Quick Fix. OSHA gives employers an immediate 15 percent penalty reduction when they correct certain health and safety violations. Reductions are provided when employers correct hazards the same day that the inspector spots the problem, and are given off-the top--before any additional reductions for size, good faith, or compliance history.
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. However, as is the case with CCP's, the agency has had to experiment with and carefully evaluate its penalty reduction approach. OSHA is attempting to design a penalty reduction system that provides adequate incentives for employers to protect worker safety and health. This process has proven more difficult and time-consuming than we initially anticipated.
Fewer Paperwork Citations. In addition to meeting our internal agency 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. Although OSHA continues to cite employers for significant paperwork violations, there has been a substantial decline in citations for less serious violations. This shift in OSHA's focus 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.
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. A few examples of the agency's regulatory partnerships include:
- 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.
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. By focusing on partnership, fairness, common sense standards, and results, not red tape, OSHA is making a difference. OSHA remains committed to reinvention and to continuous process improvement that will provide a safe and healthy work environment for America's workers.