Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 06/09/1994
• Presented To: Communications Workers of America
• Speaker: Dear, Joseph A.
• Status: Archived

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

"This document was published prior to the publication of OSHA's final rule on Ergonomics Program (29 CFR 1910.900, November 14, 2000), and therefore does not necessarily address or reflect the provisions set forth in the final standard."


                                                       Rev. 6/17
TALKING POINTS FOR ASSISTANT SECRETARY DEAR
COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA
INTL. OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY & HEALTH CONFERENCE
9:00 A.M. THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 1994

* Thank you for that kind introduction. M.E. Nichols (Executive Vice President) and David LeGrande (CWA Coordinator for Occupational Safety and Health) are to be commended for holding this very important conference on occupational safety and health as it affects CWA members.

* If today is like every other day in America, seventeen people won't come home from work because they will be killed in a job related fatality.

If today is like every other day in America, 17,000 will be hurt, perhaps maimed for life, on the job.

And countless others will die each year from illnesses that result from being exposed to harmful substances.

* The costs to society from injury and illness in the workplace are substantial. The Rand Institute for Civil Justice has estimated that accidents occurring on work time in 1989 imposed costs of $83 billion, and the National Safety Council estimated that the total cost of work-related accidents was $115 billion in 1992.

OSHA'S Mission

* A great deal of this cost, in human and economic terms, is avoidable because so much of the illness, injury and death occurring in America's workplaces is preventable. To increase the scope and impact of prevention activities by business, labor and government, many things must happen. Among the first things that must happen is that OSHA must become revitalized and recommitted to its mission of saving lives, preventing serious injuries and protecting the health of America's workers.

* There is a tremendous gap between OSHA's mission and the resources available to it. We are responsible for: 6.2 million workplaces, with 92 million workers. We have a budget of only $297 million and 2300 employees to carry out our mission of assuring, as far as possible, that all these workers have a safe and healthful workplace. By comparison EPA has a budget of $6.6 BILLION. Even the Mine Safety and Health Administration has $195 million for 247 times fewer workplaces.

* Therefore, OSHA must reinvent itself. OSHA must focus on the most serious threats to worker health and safety and be prepared to redirect its enforcement, standards setting and education and training resources to where they can do the most to protect workers.

* OSHA needs to encourage new and innovative ways for workers and employers to cooperate so they will be able to create the safest and healthiest workplaces possible.

* A strong, energized and more effective OSHA will implement and enforce programs and policies that improve the health and safety of American workers and make American businesses more profitable and competitive.

The Road to Safer and Healthier Workplaces

* OSHA's strategy for traveling the road to safer and healthier New American Workplaces is:

* Set the rules of the road with finely balanced standards that are protective, feasible, comprehensible and enforceable.

* We must block the low road and deter any employers tempted to take it with stronger enforcement of the standards.

* We must encourage the high road---celebrate successes in workplace safety and health and assist employers who want to develop high performance workplaces.

Let me discuss each of the components of our strategy.

Blocking the Low Road for Employers Through Enforcement

* Enforcement is really the cornerstone of OSHA. An effective, credible and visible enforcement program is what deters employers from taking the low road.

* We are building a stronger enforcement program. It will be backed by forceful litigation when necessary and will be a program that is balanced and supported by flexible policies and creative use of public and private resources.

* We will increase penalties. We will authorize the OSHA field enforcement staff to use our full statutory authority on penalties and to do so with streamlined inspection procedures, especially for repeat offenders, willful violators of the safety and health standards, and others who show disregard for worker safety and health---the "bad actors". Such revised procedures will address the public's sense of outrage that such violators are "let off" with minimal penalties.

* At the same time we will introduce greater flexibility to accommodate the special needs of small businesses, such as adjusted criteria for consideration of workplace size, inspection history, and evidence of good faith.

* We also will focus our enforcement resources more precisely. We want to concentrate those resources into recognized problem areas of hazards, industries and employers, bringing results in terms of immediate local action and "ripple effects" in related industries or workplaces.

* We will develop workplace-specific information for inspection targeting. Special attention will be paid to those hazards which have a long history of occupational injury and illness associated with them--areas such as tuberculosis in health care facilities, lead exposures in construction and work conducted in confined spaces.

* We also will develop a process enabling us to be particularly attentive to significant current or emerging hazards that have been identified by any occupationally interested sector, including other Federal agencies (effects of environmental tobacco smoke as identified by EPA is a good example).

* We will initiate a targeting system for industries and individual violators likely to be the more serious violators within the hazard groupings that will receive special attention.

* In cooperation with the Solicitor of Labor, we are developing a comprehensive corporate-wide settlement agreement policy. We will use these agreements where appropriate to spread the effect of enforcement actions beyond the worksite actually inspected to all of the cited employer's facilities. This will ensure that when violators are found, their workers will be assured of the maximum benefit of removal of the cited hazards throughout the company.

* We will continue to use egregious cases and referrals for possible criminal prosecution, involving appropriate publicity and involvement of the Office of the Secretary of Labor.

Enforcement stimulates voluntary compliance and the demand for consultative services to help employers reduce worksite hazards.

Encouraging the High Road

* We want to encourage employers to take the high road. We can do this through assisting them in developing high-performance workplaces which include excellent safety and health programs. And when they develop such programs, we want to celebrate their success.

* This can be done through OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs, which recognize excellence in worksite safety and health. We want to encourage as many employers as possible to achieve that excellence and join VPP.

* One of OSHA's goals for the current fiscal year is to expand the number of VPP sites from 118 to 200. We are well on the way to achieving this goal. For FY 1995, our goal will be 300 VPP sites.

* The benefits of VPP are great. Throughout VPP, workers lost workday case rates are 62 percent below the national averages for their industries.

* Workers' compensation costs and turnover can be reduced dramatically and productivity can be greatly increased. In essence, it results in a healthier organization, both physically and economically.

* We also have a program that works through OSHA-funded state consultation services that is called the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). It recognizes small worksites that have established effective programs. We are expanding that program.

Setting the Rules of the Road Through Standard Setting

* Targeted, more timely and balanced standard setting is one of our principal goals.

* OSHA takes too long on standards. For example, the confined space standard took 17 years. Workers died while that standard languished in the bureaucracy.

* OSHA is creating a system of priorities based on the nature of the hazard; number of workers at risk; and the level of exposure.

* We also are exploring opportunities to streamline the process through such techniques as negotiated rulemaking and by developing generic standards.

* During fiscal years 1994 and 1995 we are planning action on some 40 safety and health standards. This includes 18 proposed and 22 final standards. It is the most ambitious regulatory agenda in OSHA history.

* In development of standards, we are implementing a new process that emphasizes:

    --   effective teamwork; 
    --   early resolution of issues; 
    --   simultaneous rather than consecutive development of 
         standards packages, including regulatory text, 
         preamble, risk assessment, regulatory impact 
         analysis, and compliance/outreach materials;
    --   expedited review within the Department of Labor and 
         by the Office of Management and Budget.

* We used two broad criteria in considering our top OSHA standards priorities:

1. Generic standards which fill significant gaps in hazard protection. We call these OSHA "building blocks."

2. Specific standards covering very high risk or very broad exposure issues.

Leading the first category of building blocks aimed at filling significant gaps in hazard protection is ergonomics protection. We plan to publish a proposed ergonomics standard by the end of this fiscal year September 30.

Ergonomics Standard

* There is an escalating problem of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. The problem is the product of a mismatch between the design of the workplace or the worker's tools and his or her ability to respond to the demands of the job. The result is an imbalanced work system.

* Not only does it contribute greatly to the costs of workers' compensation, but this imbalance also results in poor productivity, poor quality and much pain and suffering.

* The solution requires looking at the individual in the context of the organization, the task, the technology and the environment. This must be integrated into the design phases of future work.

* We must put ergonomic principles and design into new jobs and minimize the ergonomic risk factors on existing jobs.

* And workers have to be involved in this process. Workers provide the detailed knowledge achieved only by doing the job. They have eight hours per day to think about how the job could be improved. That feedback rarely makes it back to the process or design engineer. High performance means closing the feedback gap through continuous worker input.

* OSHA is now in the process of developing a proposed ergonomics protection standard that will be used to assist and promote the process of improving workplace design and performance to eliminate or minimize the risk of all work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

* The scope of this rule and the variety of workplaces it will cover make its development a daunting task. Clearly, a rule that can't be enforced or that no one can understand will not be useful to anyone. We are committed to effective regulations that:

    --   clearly address workplace hazards 
    --   define responsibility and accountability
    --   clearly state the criteria for compliance 
    --   are in plain language 
    --   are technically competent and easily understood 
    --   affect workplace activity and conditions only to the 
         extent necessary to address hazards 
    --   address diversity of workplaces 
    --   are compatible with and do not overlap related regulations

* Professionals from OSHA and NIOSH have been working closely together to analyze large amounts of data, review the vast literature, and work on describing health effects and risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders and abatement methods.

* We also have been reviewing the history of OSHA corporatewide settlement agreements that involve ergonomics programs such as those we reached in the auto industry and the meat industry.

Health and Safety Programs

* Another of our proposed building block standards will involve requirements for written health and safety programs. This would implement concepts contained in OSHA Reform legislation now before Congress. We expect to publish a proposal in the second quarter of FY 1995.

Exposure Assessment and Medical Surveillance

* Also filling a significant gap in hazard protection would be standard for exposure assessment programs. and medical surveillance programs. The standards would complement OSHA standards that set permissible exposure limits (PELs) for air contaminants.

* The second category of high priority standards involves standards addressing issues that pose high risks to certain groups of workers.

Indoor Air Quality

* We have stepped up to a big health problem and published a proposed rule that would regulate indoor air quality and environmental tobacco smoke to protect more than 20 million exposed workers. We have taken the action to prevent thousands of heart disease deaths, hundreds of lung disease deaths, and respiratory diseases and other ailments linked to these hazards. The environmental tobacco smoke provisions would apply to more than 6 million enclosed and indoor workplaces under OSHA jurisdiction, while the indoor air provisions apply to more than 4.5 million non-industrial worksites. Hearings are to begin in the fall.

Tuberculosis

* Outbreaks of highly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis among health care workers have prompted us to include this standard among our top priorities. We plan to publish a proposal in mid-1995. In the meantime, we have issued a memorandum to the field outlining compliance procedures to protect workers against TB.

Cooperation with EPA and NIOSH

* Another of my aims is to develop a new, more cooperative relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency, particularly in such areas as rulemaking and exchange of information on hazardous and toxic substances. I have been holding meetings with EPA officials to accomplish this.

* We also want to strengthen our relationships with NIOSH. Along those lines, I have been considering giving a stronger role to the One Committee, made up of representatives of OSHA, NIOSH and EPA.

OSHA Reform

* Both Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and I have testified before Congressional committees in support of legislative action on OSHA Reform.

* Advocates of safer and healthier workplaces can take some satisfaction from the successes of the Occupational Safety and Health Act since its passage in 1970. Rates of fatalities from traumatic injury have been cut in half, standards such as those for lead and cotton dust have produced measurable improvements in worker health, and enforcement accompanied by monetary fines has reduced worker injuries in workplaces.

* But the overall incidences of injury and illness measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics have not declined significantly, and the costs of these injuries and illnesses continue to skyrocket. And who among us can forget the feeling that comes from knowing a fellow worker who was badly hurt in a preventable injury? There's no way to quantify the human costs.

* As the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, I am keenly aware of the potential for increasing the reach and range of OSHA's impact on workplace safety and health with existing resources. A concentrated focus on a management agenda to improve OSHA's organizational effectiveness can yield substantial improvements. Indeed these actions -- worker involvement, continuous quality improvement accountability, customer focus, -- are the only certain means of acquiring new financial and people resources given the fiscal realities of the federal budget. I am committed, I am determined to implement a program that will reinvent OSHA in all of its core activities -- enforcement, standard setting and education and training.

* That's a lot, for sure, but it's not enough. Congress must enact improvements in the Occupational safety and Health Act. As the economic and human toll of preventable injury and illness continues to rise, the case for OSHA Reform becomes clear. The act needs strengthening to: o get workers involved in plant health and safety through joint safety and health committees;

* provide coverage to seven million state and local government employees;

* adopt air contaminant standards that are truly protective;

* establish meaningful criminal sanctions for those few situations where injury or death is the result of willful violations of specific standards; and

* address the unique hazards and conditions of the construction industry.

* I can't tell you to lobby, but I can tell you that the members of Congress that I've talked to have heard more from employers than workers. This is a tough issue and you've got to work if you want it to happen.

HEALTH CARE REFORM

* Not only will OSHA Reform assist in building the New American Workplace, but so will passage of the Administration's proposals for Health Care Reform.

* Health care now consumes nearly 15 percent of our gross domestic product, far higher than in any other industrialized country. Business health care expenditures, currently $200 billion, now nearly equal after-tax profits.

* A major factor is the bloated and highly inefficient structure we have for health insurance. Over $45 billion went for administrative expenses in 1992.

* Another reason for the soaring cost of employee health insurance is that the premiums businesses are paying are inflated by $25 billion to cover the health care costs of those without insurance.

* The pressures experienced by businesses as a result of skyrocketing health care costs are felt with full force by their employees. Businesses pass on rising health care costs by holding down employees' compensation, redirecting money that would otherwise have gone for wages. The Brookings Institution estimates that rising health care costs have consumed 58 % of workers' potential wage increases since 1980, and, if left unchecked, will soon consume 100%.

* Another response of some employers has been to require workers to pay an increasing share of their health care costs.

* For some, the alternative to reductions in compensation is to reduce or eliminate entirely the health care coverage itself. Employer coverage of the non-elderly population fell from 66.8 % in 1988 to 62.5 % in 1992.

* Also, up to 30 % of workers feel "locked" into current jobs because they fear that a new employer may not offer insurance, or someone in their family has a pre-existing condition that would not be covered if they switched jobs.

* Some of the benefits of the Administration's Health Security Act are that it would:

    --Provide a truly competitive health insurance market and
      major administrative efficiencies that would result in major
      cost savings to both employers and those employees
      who contribute to health plan coverage.
    --Lessen the burden that workers'compensation costs impose on
      American industry by partially integrating workers'
      compensation medical costs into the new system.
    --Facilitate greater productivity growth.  As health care costs
      decrease, the economy will be able to produce more output than
      it would have without reform.  This productivity
      increase will raise living standards, which is the principal
      objective of this Administration's economic policies.
    --Health insurance also would be completely portable,
      removing fears of employees who feel locked in by fear
      of losing health insurance on a new job, removing fears
      of those on welfare that if they join the workforce
      they lose health insurance coverage, and the fears of
      those who would like to start new businesses but are
      prevented by fear of losing their health insurance or
      by the prohibitive costs of providing their employees
      with health insurance.

* Another key aspect of the Administration's efforts to improve conditions for the American workforce is the Reemployment Act of 1994. This legislation is designed to equip all Americans to participate in the new, improving economy. Without a workforce strategy explicitly geared to preparing all Americans for productive, rewarding work, we risk leaving some of our fellow citizens behind as the economy moves ahead. We cannot accept this. The Reemployment Act would consolidate all major dislocated-worker programs into an integrated service system geared to deliver what workers need to get their next job, regardless of why they lost their last job; and allow states to develop one-stop career centers to streamline access to a wide range of job training and employment programs.

COOPERATION WITH STATE PLANS

* As you know, there are 23 states and territories that operate their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs on a full coverage basis. Two other states, New York and Connecticut, have state programs that cover state and local government employees only.

* Having come from a state plan in the State of Washington, I am particularly sensitive to the relationship between federal OSHA and the state and territorial plans.

* Outsiders often make the mistake of thinking there are two OSHA systems in this country: federal and state plans. But it is far more useful to look at government regulation of safety and health as a unified system with a federal component and a state component. Improving communication between the two partners is one of my highest personal priorities.

* I want to be sure that we incorporate consideration of the States into our thinking and planning. I also asked the State plans to assist in assuring nationwide applicability of consistent policies. That does not mean that programs must be mirror images. But the bottom line is that employers and employees should expect similar treatment from OSHA, whether from the Federal Government or a State plan.

* Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Stanley, who oversees the agency's enforcement and field programs, has said incorporating the field offices and the state-plan States in actions of the federal office is one of his principal aims.

* He already has been including regional and state-level offices in some of his regular staff meetings, and he intends to continue this practice.

* In early April, we held a State Plan Monitoring Reinvention Conference in Chicago, attended by representatives of most of the states operating their own occupational safety and health programs as well as federal OSHA personnel who deal with the States. A total of 40 recommendations for streamlining State-Federal relationships resulted. The conference facilitator reported that the suggestions will assist federal and State programs to develop a "new partnership--one that allows all the different components to meld into a single, recognizable entity that is dedicated to workplace safety and health."

* The public must perceive that the efforts of Federal OSHA and the state-plan States and territories in occupational safety and health are united.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

* We must remember what this is about. Right now there are men and women needlessly at risk.

* As Secretary of Labor Reich has noted, in a highly competitive global economy, we simply cannot tolerate the high costs of workplace injury and illness. In today's economy -- where capital and information cross national borders instantly -- a nation's comparative advantage comes from the only resource that stays more or less fixed within its borders: its workers. That is why the centerpiece of this Administration's economic strategy is investing in our workers -- their skills, their abilities and their capacity to innovate. Investing in their health and safety is a part of this strategy, for healthy and safe workers are productive workers.

* These workers are the key ingredient in what Secretary of Labor Reich has referred to as the New American Workplace---a high-performance workplace that can compete effectively on a global basis and assure that the standard of living of the 75% majority of Americans who do not graduate from college reverses its decline of the past 16 years and begins to rise again.

* I had an experience last summer that was indelibly burned into my mind because it illustrated the realities of the work we must do. While I was still serving as a Labor Department consultant, Secretary Reich and I met with four women who had stories to tell.

* One was the wife of a worker who had been burned in a sugar mill accident. Another was the daughter of a public worker who had been buried in a trench in a state where there was no public worker coverage. Another was the mother of a son who was drilling and was torn to bits by the auger. And the fourth woman was the sister of a worker employed in an auto parts factory who was crushed to death.

* In every single one of those cases, those deaths could have been prevented. Those women looked me and the Secretary and said "We've suffered our loss. That can't be replaced. But you, you can make a difference. You can stop this."

* That's our mission in OSHA. And we want the continuing help of organizations such as the CWA so that we can do the most to save lives, to protect injuries and protect the health of workers.


Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents