Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|
| Information Date:||11/07/2007|
| Presented To:||Opening Plenary Session|
| Speaker:||Edwin G. Foulke Jr.|
Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.
Assistant Secretary of Labor
United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Head of the United States delegation to the
Fifth EU-US Joint Conference on Health and Safety at Work
Opening Plenary Session
9 a.m. Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Minister Vieira da Silva,
Director General Van der Pas,
and distinguished guests:
The United States delegation is pleased and honored to participate in the Fifth EU-US Joint Conference on Health and Safety at Work. It is our sincere hope that our time together here in Portugal will stimulate an exchange of ideas and productive results.
At stake are the lives of millions of men and women on both sides of the Atlantic. They seek each day to work without fear of injury or illness, so they may return to their families and friends at the end of each workday, safe and healthy. This universal desire is basic and easy to understand; but the solutions are complex ¿ because hazards are diverse, science is complicated, and modern workplaces are affected by challenging social, economic and technological factors.
The search for practical solutions to these workplace challenges will test the combined experience, knowledge and wisdom of every representative of every nation at this assembly. The United States is prepared to contribute and we are eager to learn from our friends in the European Union.
The value of this conference has clearly captured the enthusiasm of many leaders in the United States. I am pleased to say that in the history of the EU-US Joint Conference on Health and Safety at Work, this year¿s delegation from the United States is our largest and most diverse. Not only do we bring to this conference the greatest number of experts we have ever had from the U.S. government, industry and labor, but also the members of our delegation represent the largest, most influential American safety associations, businesses, and labor unions to ever attend this conference.
I want to express my gratitude to Ramon Biosca, Antonio Cammarota and Grete Metral of the European Commission for organizing this conference. Their collaboration and coordination has been superb.
I also wish to acknowledge the organization members of my U.S. Steering Committee ¿ NIOSH, the AFL-CIO, ORC Worldwide, the National Safety Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Voluntary Protection Participants Association. They worked hard to identify outstanding experts from government, labor and industry to join in the United States delegation to this conference.
Our 17 U.S. government experts include the senior officials in charge of education and training, standards and guidance, construction, and administration from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ¿ OSHA ¿ which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. We also bring to this conference several government experts in science from America¿s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ¿ NIOSH ¿ which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
From industry, the United States delegation brings officials from major safety associations as well as representatives from some of our largest corporations.
As I have mentioned, I am pleased that distinguished representatives from many U.S. labor associations have eagerly agreed to participate in our deliberations.
And from the sector of higher education, our delegation is pleased to have among us distinguished administrators from Texas A&M University and Rocky Mountain Education Center.
The members of the U.S. delegation have invested much of their time and resources into the planning of this conference. As a result, we bring to this week¿s meetings our eagerness to learn and share with our European counterparts. We also feel a great responsibility to carry back to the United States practical ideas that can be implemented into American workplaces. Therefore, it is our hope that at this Fifth EU-US Conference there will be a productive exchange of ideas on best practices, based on our individual experiences of what is or is not effective in our respective nations.
We hope that this exchange will both broaden and deepen our understanding of occupational safety and health. We also hope that the workshops this week will strengthen our bonds of friendship and cooperation.
Our pledge of cooperation began in December 1995 when the President of the United States and his EU counterparts signed the New Trans-Atlantic Agenda, which called for broader and deeper cooperation on a wide variety of issues facing our nations. Out of this agreement came a Memorandum of Understanding between the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs and the U.S. Secretary of Labor, signed in Washington in 1996. Since then, the Working Group on Employment and Labor-related Issues has sponsored a number of meetings, workshops and conferences that draw from governments, trade unions, employer organizations, businesses, and academia.
In four previous conferences we have addressed critical issues in occupational safety and health:
- In Luxembourg in 1998, we discussed rulemaking; enforcement and innovative compliance assistance techniques; information sharing; and risk management practices.
- In San Francisco in 2000, our topics included: ergonomics; safety and health management systems; worker rights and participation; and small and medium-size businesses.
- In Greece in 2003, we addressed: chemicals in the workplace; work-related stress; quantitative and qualitative indicators; and partnerships.
- In Florida, as part of the World Safety Congress in 2005, we considered: global management of chemicals; advancing good practices in health and safety at the corporate level; immigrant safety and health; and contractor safety.
I want to congratulate the members of the working groups for reaching a consensus on four discussion topics and their subtopics for this conference. At the end of their discussions the working groups selected two topics recommended by the EU and two from the U.S. In the same spirit of cooperation and coordination, it will be the challenge of the co-chairs for each of the topics and subtopics to steer the delegates toward productive results.
During our conference over the next three days, our four EU-US working groups will discuss:
- Emergency Preparedness and Worker Safety and Health,
- Education and Training for Health and Safety,
- New and Emerging Issues in Occupational Safety and Health, and
- Occupational Safety and Health Strategic Approaches.
Within this first conference topic, the participants will discuss Effective Planning and Preparedness Efforts at various levels from federal government to local agencies, the business community, and other entities. Participants will discuss the lessons learned from successful models, the appropriate roles of government and the business sector to provide assistance, and how to strengthen weak links in the chain of communication and coordination. One subtopic of planning and preparedness will focus on how to preserve critical infrastructure by protecting workers who provide essential public services.
The second conference topic acknowledges the vital role that education and training plays in creating and spreading a culture of safety and health in workplaces. Education and training awakens hazard awareness in employers and employees, and learning new skills empowers workers to competently assess many risks and to participate in preventing workplace illnesses and injuries.
Subtopics for this discussion will examine curriculum development, systems of delivery, and ways to measure effectiveness and competency. One subtopic will focus on the particular challenges of providing safety and health education for two vulnerable and often hard-to-reach groups: young employees and new employees. Many young and/or new employees on both sides of the Atlantic come to their workplaces with significant cultural, language and literacy barriers that expose them to great risks, and one subtopic will examine strategies to reach these populations and address these barriers to safe and healthy employment.
Time and humanity are in constant motion, and so our third discussion topic will examine what mechanisms, tools, systems and processes may help us anticipate and identify new hazards as they emerge. Subtopics will consider the contributions of business, labor and government in acquiring and sharing information; the emerging safety and health issues related to nanotechnology and novel materials; and the effective development of guidance tools to help businesses evaluate workplace risks. Members from both the U.S. and EU delegations have great experience in developing guidance tools, and one subtopic will look at how to use these tools to address particular chemical hazards found in workplaces today.
Our fourth and final discussion topic will compare and contrast various strategic approaches used to create a comprehensive occupational safety and health process ¿ in various levels of government and in business. Recognizing that government and industry do not always have the same objectives, issues for discussion will include a comparison of goals, targets and incentives used in government and industry. This discussion topic will also examine the accuracy and reliability of various assessment systems. In other words, delegates will seek to understand: What strategies do we believe produce effective occupational safety and health, and how can we be certain? At the end of the day, what is our measure of success?
My friends: These discussion topics bear tremendous consequence as well as powerful potential to make a difference in the lives of real people. There is also a real danger that we can allow the fascinating philosophical questions posed by these topics to tempt us into endless discussion. We have a few, precious hours over three days to examine, debate, compare, consider and finally ¿ and most importantly ¿ arrive at practical, workable conclusions.
The participants have a busy, stimulating agenda before them. Their co-chairs have the responsibility to keep the discussions on topic, to encourage a lively exchange of ideas (while using their substantial powers of diplomacy to keep everyone on friendly terms!) and, finally, to deliver productive results.
I want to thank the Portuguese Presidency and everyone else from the EU for inviting and welcoming the United States delegation to this important joint conference on worker safety and health. I wish the Portuguese Presidency continued success in its term, and I am grateful for your gracious, warm, and generous hospitality.
I also wish to congratulate the EU on the debut of your 2007-2012 European strategy on safety and health at work. This document clearly shows the investment of much thought and effort needed to comprehend a wide spectrum of social, economic and technical issues present in the modern workplace. You surely must be very proud of your achievement!
Much of the new EU strategy parallels the direction of my agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, under the U.S. Department of Labor¿s 5-year Strategic Plan. In particular, the EU plan and ours share a strong focus on prevention through a balanced approach that includes offering compliance assistance information, conducting education and training, developing special help for small businesses, and targeting enforcement efforts.
We have much to achieve, but we are fortunate to have in this room a wealth of talent ¿ which is why I am confident that at the conclusion of our conference on Friday this talent will deliver productive results.
With great hope, earnest desire, a clear plan, good food and good friends ¿ let us today begin our work, so that others each day may go to work¿ without fear of injury or illness.
|Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|