Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 06/22/1994
• Presented To: American Society of Safety Engineers
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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."

(Note: This is the text submitted to Mr. Dear. It is not necessarily the text as delivered by him.)

                                                          Rev. 6/21
Grand Ballroom Bally's Hotel                                 8:00 a.m. Wednesday 
Las Vegas, Nevada                                            June 22, 1994
* Thank you, Stew, for that kind introduction. (Stewart Burkhammer of Bechtel Corp., chairman of the session and ASSE vice president of conferences will introduce you.) Stew and Allen Macenski, your president, are to be commended for organizing this very large and important conference of safety professionals. I like the idea that attendance at the conference and its many important educational sessions can provide a "Passport to Excellence."

* I also want to publicly thank Stew Burkhammer for all the dedicated service he has given OSHA as a member of OSHA's Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. That is a very important area for OSHA and Stew provides us with invaluable insight and advice.

* My congratulations and best wishes for future success also go to Margaret M. Carroll on her installation as the first woman president of ASSE.

* Many of our OSHA professionals are ASSE members and benefit greatly from their interactions with the Society. Over the years, ASSE also has assisted in development of OSHA standards. The Society also has done much for the future of occupational safety and health in America through its work in accrediting bachelor's and master's degrees in the field at nine different U.S. universities. So I think we can safely say that many of the goals of ASSE coincide with those of OSHA.

* Working with Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich to transform OSHA is a wonderful challenge and I am having the time of my life doing it. Outside the beltway, the job of Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health is listed in a book of highly sought after jobs that becomes known as the "plum book" after each election. Then I find out that in DC they have another book, one for all the highly technical, super controversial and substantially underfunded programs like OSHA. It's called the "prune book."

* It's been quite a transition from the real Washington to the other Washington. After confirmation last fall, I was preparing for my first media interviews. Now, nothing is simple in Washington DC, so I had advisors helping me prepare the interviews and I was told I had to have a practice session so that the rollout of the new Assistant Secretary would go smoothly and I wouldn't say anything stupid.

* One of the practice questions was: How does work in Washington DC compare with Washington State?

* I proceeded with what I thought was a careful, thoughtful answer to a good question. I said it was a significant challenge to move to Washington DC from a state where labor and management had learned to cooperate on the major issues of safety, health, workers' compensation, where elected officials of both parties could be focussed on problem solving and develop compromises, where resources could be found to implement solutions, and where even the media might actually do a substantive story on the issues. DC is where the reverberations inside the beltway echo chamber make even the simplest tasks difficult, where the environment is totally unforgiving, the time pressure relentless, the consequences of error immense, resistance to change incredible, partisanship unending and benefit of the doubt completely missing.

* My advisors looked horrified. "You can't say that!" "Why?" I asked, "It's true." "That's not the point," they said. "If you say that people will think you're having a hard time and you don't want them to think that because they'll just try to make it harder."

* So you know what my answer to that question became? "It's a lot harder to find a good cup of coffee in DC, but the situation is improving."

The Problem

* 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.

* Of course, there is no way to quantify the human costs--the suffering, anguish, anxiety and lost potential except to note that it is enormous.

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 thing 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.

* This gap between mission and resources is the principal driver behind the necessity for OSHA to 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.

Reinventing OSHA

* 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.

* Reinvention is key to OSHA's future. Just like private companies whose competitive situations have compelled them to look hard at all their current processes and operations and reengineer, rightsize or whatever euphemism is used to describe wrenching change, so does OSHA's enormous mission and constrained resources force it to find a better way.

* President Clinton has proposed a modest increase for OSHA in his budget for 1995. It is modest only in the sense that it is an incremental addition. Compared to other domestic federal programs the fact that it is growing at all is a monumental commitment to improving the program.

* Incremental changes won't make it. Think about it: if all new 61 FTE's provided in the 1995 budget are made frontline compliance officers, at present productivity rates we'd add another 3,000 inspections. Wow. We'd decrease our inspection coverage from once every 80 years to once every 79 and one-half years.

* Reinvention is about finding ways of extending OSHA's reach and range. By reach I mean the number of workplaces touched by OSHA and by range I mean the extent of what happens as a result of OSHA's intervention. Compare the difference between a compliance inspection that has an impact, but over time begins to fade, with an intervention that produces management commitment to a health and safety program that involves worker participation. And reinvention is about getting results: making an impact.

The Road to Safer and Healthier Workplaces

* Reinvention is more of a journey than a destination. This is OSHA's strategy for traveling the road to safer and healthier New American Workplaces:

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

* Block the low road and deter any employers tempted to take it with tough enforcement.

* Encourage the high road--stay out of the way of employers who go above and beyond OSHA's minimum requirements, 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 Through Enforcement

* Enforcement is really the cornerstone of OSHA. Tough enforcement sends an unambiguous message to employers who are on the low road, the road of employers who consciously neglect health and safety and treat their workers as just another factor of production to be disposed of like human debris if they become sick or injured. Enforcement also deters employers who are tempted to take the low road and creates a demand for voluntary compliance.

* In fact, Secretary Reich has directed all of DOL's enforcement agencies to implement a four-pronged strategy to assure tough responsible enforcement. The strategy includes: (1) targeting the worst actors and the worst offenses; (2) protecting vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and low-wage workers who are often the subject of the worst abuses by employers; (3) deterring violations with significant penalties, including criminal penalties; and (4) getting results swiftly and efficiently. Cases and regulations should not languish for years.

* Effective targeting is the prerequisite for successful enforcement. We want to concentrate our enforcement 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 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.

* We have announced a five-fold increase to $25,000 in the minimum proposed penalty for willful violations which could result in death or serious physical harm.

* 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.

* The Maine 200 program is an example of innovation, reinvention, in our enforcement role. This program is directed at the 200 employers in Maine with the most workers' compensation lost workday cases. We give them an opportunity to develop and implement a comprehensive action plan to reduce the injuries and illnesses in their workplaces. Employers who decide not to submit an acceptable action plan within a certain time period are placed on a primary list for OSHA inspections. Employers who submit an acceptable action plan are removed from the primary inspection list and placed on a secondary inspection list. So far it has been a success, with quite a few companies submitting very good safety and health plans. One company even proudly announced to the press that it had been invited to join the Maine 200 program. We will study the results of this pilot program before attempting to expand it to other states.

Setting the Rules of the Road Through Standard Setting

* OSHA must have something to enforce and that means standards, the rules of the road.

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

* 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.

* 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.

* While you are here in Las Vegas, some of you may have had the opportunity to conduct a little after-hours research on the possible ergonomic hazards in the casino environment---perhaps observing first-hand if repetitive motion does induce cumulative trauma disorders in the casino croupiers and dealers.

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.

* Among standards addressing areas of high risk or broad exposure are:

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 (ETS) 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. Hearings are to begin this fall.


* 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.

Fall protection. This includes:

* Final fall protection standard for construction, scheduled for fourth quarter of FY 1994. A third of all worksite deaths in construction are due to falls.

* Two standards on scaffolds in construction (final in first quarter of FY 1995) and in maritime (publish final during fourth quarter of FY 1995).

* Final standard on walking/working surfaces (provides fall protection and scaffolds for general industry), which is scheduled for publication in the third quarter of FY 1995.

* Negotiated rulemaking to work on a standard for steel erection. First meetings were held last week.

Progress in standards

* We have already made remarkable progress in carrying out a regulatory schedule set just six months ago, in December.

* Since December, we have published four new final rules and three proposed rules.

* New final rules:

* Require employers to orally report any occupational fatality or catastrophe involving in-patient hospitalization of three or more workers within eight hours. Shortening the reporting period from 48 hours to eight will enable OSHA to respond to workplace accidents more quickly and help assure that no other employees remain at risk. Lowering the reportable number of hospitalizations from five to three will provide the Agency with additional information on the causes of workplace accidents.

* Protect almost 400,000 workers who operate and maintain electric power generation, transmission and distribution installations. This action is expected to prevent about 60 worker deaths and more than 1,600 worker injuries annually.

* Enhance protection for 11.7 million workers who need to wear safety equipment such as hardhats, face shields, safety glasses, gloves and safety shoes. Savings to society due to prevention of deaths and injuries as a result of this rule are estimated at $1 billion annually and the savings to employers alone will be $150 million a year.

* Update the hazard communication standard, which provides protection to the millions of workers who must handle dangerous chemicals on the job. The update modifies and clarifies various provisions to help ensure full compliance, thus increasing worker protection.

* New proposed rules, in addition to the one on indoor air quality and environmental tobacco smoke I have already mentioned, would:

* Require employers to certify that they have abated workplace hazards cited by OSHA and, in certain cases, submit abatement plans and progress reports. Tags on cited equipment would be required to inform employees of a hazard while the abatement is under way.

* Provide greater protection of workers in longshoring aboard vessels and in related activities ashore in marine terminals. These proposed revisions in the longshoring and marine terminal regulations are expected to prevent 1,300 injuries and three deaths annually and save more than $18 million a year.

Encouraging the High Road

* We want to encourage employers to take the high road, to commit to management of health and safety that goes beyond mere compliance, that embraces the principles of continuous quality improvement, worker empowerment and prevention.

* 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 recognize and 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.

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

* Successful safety and health programs such as those in VPP can utilize the same principles as the quality management programs that many of your companies employ to compete successfully overseas under ISO 9000 --- employee involvement, training and identification of problems, measurement, action plans, documentation and accountability, for example.

* The discussions with representatives of ASSE about the possibility of some of your members providing pro bono assistance to small businesses in conjunction with the OSHA consultation program are tremendously important. Such pro bono assistance from ASSE and AIHA could help us to further leverage our consultation resources in these tight budget times.

* But to really change on a vast scale, to accomplish a true extension of reach and range--we've got to do some fresh thinking, some courageous thinking.

* Last fall, Vice President Gore's National Performance Review suggested that in view of its limited resources, OSHA consider the use of third parties for workplace inspection. Some observers were astonished--to put it mildly--that a Democratic Administration was embracing a Republican idea. Hadn't records inspections been tried and found to be ludicrously misguided?

* They were appalled at the suggestion that the government relinquish inspection authority, believing this to be an incredibly naive view of the intentions and behavior of some employers.

* I've spent a lot of time explaining what the NPR recommendation isn't: a replacement of enforcement with voluntary certification. No one has spent much time exploring the possibilities. It's time to do that.

* Let's review the situation. There's the gap between OSHA's mission and resources and the reality of the federal budget deficit. Enforcement is a uniquely governmental function that must be targeted on the worst actors and be recognized as a supremely important means of improving workplace safety and health. We're revitalizing enforcement, but it must be understood that at present resource levels enforcement alone cannot assure safe and healthy workplaces for all workers.

* Compliance assistance must be expanded. Fine, we can do that, but not with money we don't have. We need allies. ASSE has a big role to play along with AIHA, insurance companies, trade associations, business assistance programs, unions, training programs and others.

* It's time to open a dialogue between business, labor and government about how third party verification of employer safety and health programs coupled with employee empowerment can leverage incentives for significant improvement in workplace safety and health. It must be understood that this is not a quick fix approach, that it requires careful thought and deliberation and that unless we are prepared to engage in this exercise the best we can expect is continued marginal improvement in worker health and safety.

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 have produced measurable improvements in worker health in specific industries, and enforcement accompanied by monetary fines have produced lower incidence of worker injuries.

* But the overall incidence 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? We have enough trouble quantifying the economic losses from workplace injury, illness and death; there's no way to quantify the human costs.

* Tougher enforcement, streamlined standards setting, expanded compliance assistance through cooperative programs and reinvention of OSHA's organization and operations can do much to improve the situation.

* 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:

* get workers involved in plant health and safety through joint safety and health committees; Many major companies already have such committees and their success as well as successes in states requiring such committees show the idea can work to reduce injuries and illnesses.

* provide coverage to seven million state and local government employees who currently receive only spotty safety and health coverage despite handling some of the most hazardous tasks such as fighting fires and cleaning up toxic waste.

* adopt air contaminant standards that are truly protective. The legislation would require OSHA to issue the standard on hundreds of chemical exposure limits that was struck down by a court in 1992 and also apply it to cover employees in the construction, maritime and agriculture industries, as OSHA had proposed.

* establish meaningful criminal sanctions for those few situations where injury or death is the result of willful violations of specific standards. The bill contains provisions, supported by the Justice Department, that increase penalties for willful violations that cause death or serious injury and provide the government with authority to prosecute those company officials who had power to bring a company into compliance.

* address the unique hazards and conditions of the construction industry whose rate of injury and illness is about 50 percent greater than in other private industries. And construction has about 15 percent of all fatalities, even though it employs only about 5 percent of all private workers.

Work that Matters

* I hope that you leave here today realizing that OSHA is moving ahead, with significant changes in enforcement, standards development, and encouragement to employers to follow the high road to workplace safety and health through cooperation, training and consultation.

* It is easy to forget what this work is really about. We must remember that as we meet here that right now there are men and women at work who are needlessly at risk. Some won't come home to their families tonight because they will be killed. Others will be disabled for life.

* Theodore Roosevelt once said that, "Far and away the best prize life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." Protecting the lives and livelihoods of American workers by increasing their health and safety surely is work worth doing. I look forward to doing it with you.

Thank you for listening.
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 - (Archived) Table of Contents

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