Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 04/26/1995
• Presented To: American Insurance Services Group Engineering and Safety Services
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


I understand that the theme of this conference is "Planning for the Next Century." Right now, OSHA's status in the next century is somewhat uncertain. But we have been doing our best to plan for the future and to create a new, improved OSHA.

The past 100 days have been very interesting times in Washington, D.C., and the political life of our nation. The Chinese have a saying -- May you live in interesting times. Actually, they say its a curse.

I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill during those first 100 days. In addition to testifying before Congressional committees, I met with members of Congress almost every day. A lot of my time is spent trying to convince members that most of the negative stories they hear about OSHA are just plain false.

They and you have been hearing that OSHA is filled with inspectors who fine businesses thousands of dollars for nitpicky violations that have little to do with worker safety. They hear about everything from the tooth fairy to guardrails to chewing gum to dishwashing detergents.

Virtually all of these stories are FALSE. OSHA has NOT banned the tooth fairy, dentists CAN give children their extracted teeth. OSHA does NOT require all guardrails to be precisely 42 inches high, and has not enforced such a requirement in nearly two decades. OSHA does NOT prohibit workers from chewing gum, although we do restrict asbestos removal workers from ingesting food where a high level of asbestos is present, since ingestion of asbestos causes cancer and lung damage. OSHA does NOT require Material Safety Data Sheets for the normal use of consumer products like Joy; workers must be informed of risks ONLY when they are regularly exposed to high levels of substances that actually pose health risks.

OSHA's record is a good one.

The story that you don't hear is that OSHA SAVES LIVES. Through its protective standards and enforcement programs, OSHA has helped reduce the workplace fatality rate by over 50 percent since 1970. Eliminating the Agency or gutting these programs would be a terrible tragedy for working men and women and their employers -- most of whom sincerely want to provide safe and healthful workplaces.

OSHA standards make a real difference -- often the difference between life and death -- to millions of working Americans. Since OSHA strengthened trenching protection in 1990, trenching fatalities have declined by 35 percent. OSHA's lead standard saved thousands of smelting and battery plant workers from anemia, nerve disorders, seizures, brain damage and even death resulting from prolonged exposure to lead. The grain handling standard protects workers from grain dust explosions and has helped reduce fatalities by 58 percent and injuries by 41 percent.

In the textile industry, the rate of "brown lung" cases -- involving a crippling and sometimes fatal respiratory disease -- declined from 40,000 cases to a few hundred after OSHA issued its cotton dust standard. We call cotton dust one of OSHA's greatest success stories. Not only did the standard almost completely eliminate "brown lung," but it increased industry productivity. The Economist magazine reported that the tighter cotton dust rules caused firms to throw out tons of old,in efficient machinery and replace it with the latest available machinery.

Millions of working Americans also have benefitted directly from OSHA's enforcement program. In the three years following an OSHA inspection and fine, injuries at the inspected worksite 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 risen in other industries.

BUT OUR WORK IS FAR FROM DONE. Every year, work-related accidents and illnesses cost an estimated 56,000 American lives -- more than the total American lives lost in battle during the entire 9-year Vietnam war. On an average day, 17 working Americans are killed in safety accidents, an estimated 137 more die from occupational disease, and another 16,000 are injured.

Safety accidents alone cost our economy over $100 billion a year, and occupational illnesses cost many times more. We all bear these costs, as employers, as workers and as taxpayers.

So we should be doing even more, not less. There is a tremendous gap between our mission, which encompasses safety and health for over 93 million workers employed at over 6 million workplaces and our resources, $312 million and 2,300 people. So we have to change the way we do business in order to narrow that gap. We have to reinvent ourselves.

Today, I would like to tell you how OSHA has been changing the way we do business, and how we have already begun to achieve results.

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.

Here is how we are meeting our goals.

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 now be measured by its success in making safety and health improvements.

We are changing the conduct of everyday business at the agency by redesigning our field offices to focus on the most serious threats to worker safety and health, and to promote partnerships with employers, employees, and other stakeholders.

We call this GRIP -- Getting Results and Improving Performance. OSHA intends to change the way its area offices respond to workplace safety and health issues. Instead of using the traditional strategy of protecting workers by reacting to workplace injuries and illnesses in an incidental and piecemeal manner, the redesigned OSHA area office will use a strategy that attempts to solve the problems. The field offices will analyze the root causes of injuries and illness in their jurisdiction and develop appropriate responses. They will work with other stakeholders like insurers in trying to address the problems. We now have pilot projects under way at area offices in Parsippany, N.J., and Atlanta, Ga. The Atlanta office is working with Argonaut Insurance Co. in a program designed to reduce injuries and claims at a multi-state construction firm that has recently suffered a number of serious claims, particularly from injuries due to falls.

On a national basis we are developing "focused inspection" initiatives which constitute a major point at which we can develop cooperation with you and other insurers.

"Focused inspection" has been under way in the construction industry since October 1. We focus inspections on hazards that are related to the leading causes of construction deaths: falls from elevations; being struck by machines or materials; being caught in trenching collapses or between a vehicle and another surface; and electrical shock.

OSHA's time can be more effectively spent investigating the most dangerous workplace conditions in construction. What we do is determine who is the controlling contractor on the worksite and whether that contractor has an effective safety and health program and a person on the site responsible for implementing that program. If the answer is "yes," then we will perform an inspection focusing on the four killer hazards. We would still cite for any other serious violations in plain view during the inspection.

If the controlling contractor does not have both an effective safety and health program and a person responsible for implementing the program, then we will perform our usual comprehensive inspection.

We plan to expand this concept into general industry. We outlined our tentative plans at a meeting with insurance representatives March 9.

We would focus on the hazards that produce the most costly injuries in a particular industry, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data and, if possible, data from insurers and state workers' compensation agencies.

OSHA and insurers could work together to help employers to understand and establish the necessary safety and health program to qualify for a focused inspection and to identify and control the focal hazards. In other words, OSHA and insurers can work together to promote effective safety and health management, and to direct employers' attention to the hazards that OSHA and insurers recognize should have priority for control.

As a result of the March 9 meeting, representatives from the American Insurance Services Group, the American Insurance Association, the Alliance of American Insurers and OSHA agreed to set up two working groups -- one for construction and one for general industry. They will work on such projects as refining the safety and health program management criteria for focused inspections in construction and general industry, what hazards should be the focus of general industry focused inspections, and development of outreach materials to educate employers and others. Using those outreach materials, we hope that some insurers will work with us to carry out pilot projects in which OSHA would take account of the work an employer has done with his or her insurer in deciding how much to inspect and, if hazards are found uncontrolled, how much to penalize.

We think that this area -- outreach based on focused inspection criteria -- offers a great opportunity for cooperation between OSHA and the insurance industry that will benefit employers, workers and insurers. I will look forward to your thoughts on this idea.

We are streamlining paperwork requirements for employers. We will simplify the regulation for recording occupational injuries and illnesses that currently affects more than one million employers nationwide. We will simplify the forms and definitions and provide greater flexibility to employers for maintaining and using the information. The revision also will provide better data on several types of occupational illness and improve information on injuries and illnesses involving lost workdays and restricted work activity.

We are improving the way that OSHA responds to workers' complaints about hazardous conditions. Some employees think that OSHA takes too long to respond to complaints. Some employers think many complaints are not worthy of a formal inspection yet current policy dictates that every formal complaint must be answered with an inspection. We want to prioritize our responses based on the nature of the hazards, and to allow compliance officers to work with employers and employees in ways that don't mandate a formal inspection. Field offices in Peoria, Ill, and Cleveland already have sharply reduced the time from receipt of a non-formal complaint to abatement of the hazard, and we are developing a test program for handling formal complaints.

We also are creating incentives for business to improve workplace safety and health. The Maine 200 pilot program is a great example. Maine 200 involves using worker compensation data to target the most hazardous workplaces. The 200 employers with the worst safety records were given a choice: implement a comprehensive safety and health program, or be put on a priority list for a wall-to-wall inspection. The vast majority chose the first option, with stunning results. During the first 18 months of the program, participants identified nearly 100,000 hazards and violations, at a rate over 14 times higher than OSHA's own rate of identifying such problems. More than half of these hazards and violations have already been abated. That's leverage. We have set up a similar program in Wisconsin, and we are looking to expand it further.

We are working closely in partnership with key business and labor groups to develop a proposed rule for safety and health programs. This proposed rule will indicate how companies can use systematic safety and health programs to find and fix hazards by emphasizing management leadership and worker involvement. OSHA is writing this rule in plain, easy to follow language, which will give users flexibility to respond to their own specific conditions. We look forward to your input on this standard, especially in view of your extensive work with employers on safety and health programs.

This rule will become the basic foundation for all future workplace safety and health efforts. OSHA, in partnership with business, labor, insurers (we hope) and other groups, will use a wide range of outreach, education and training to provide all possible assistance to employers and employees.

We also continue to work on developing a workable proposal for an ergonomic protection standard.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) or cumulative trauma disorders are a major problem throughout the nation.

The costs associated with these disorders are also increasing rapidly -- particularly in workers' compensation.

More than one out every three dollars in workers' compensation claims is going for this type of claim. The number of such claims is growing up to 12 percent per year, depending on the type of MSD.

Any employer who invests in ergonomics protection processes can expect to earn a positive payback in a short time.

About a year ago the OSHA ergonomic team went to workplaces in Atlanta, Milwaukee, Chicago, Nashville and Detroit to find out what worked and what didn't. They held town meetings in some of these cities. They held stakeholder meetings which included insurers with management and labor in general industry, the office environment, health care, agriculture and construction. The staff listened and tried to incorporate what they heard into the draft. The staff over the last month went back to these same people and workplaces to see if they got it right. So far we have been getting positive, constructive feedback on our draft ergonomic protection proposal.

We have been reinventing the standards setting process. In the absence of unlimited resources, OSHA needs to determine what its action priorities are, in order to deal effectively with the most serious workplace safety and health hazards. We are creating a system of priorities based on the nature of the hazard, the number of workers at risk, the level of exposure -- using the best available scientific and economic information. Input from stakeholders in business, labor, insurers, state governments and professional associations is being sought. An OSHA Action List of workplace hazards or issues is being compiled. For all of the items on the Action List, we will recommend appropriate agency actions such as rulemaking, the issuance of a hazard alert, enforcement emphasis or consultation.

We also are working to weed out outdated, duplicative or conflicting standards. We want to get rid of provisions that clutter up the standards books and do nothing to protect life or limb. Along that line, we published a request in the Federal Register last October, well before the election, asking workers, employers and others in the safety and health community to identify those regulations that should be repealed.

We are expanding recognition programs for workplaces with strong demonstrations of worker participation and management commitment to comprehensive hazard recognition and control. In 1994, we added over 80 new sites to our Voluntary Protection Programs, expanding our safety and health excellence recognition program by over 75 percent. We now have 189 sites in the Federal VPP program and another 14 in State Plan VPP programs, with 47 applications for Federal VPP membership pending.

The benefits are considerable -- lower injuries and illnesses, lower workers' compensation payments, higher productivity and enhanced community standing, and an exemption from programmed inspections.

VPP sites average 62% less workday injuries than the average for similar industries. Here are a few examples of what VPP membership can do. Monsanto Chemical Co.'s Pensacola, Fla., plant, which employs 2,000 workers, reported a steady decline in lost workday case rates during the period the worksite was implementing effective safety and health programs and in the four years since admission to VPP. The rates fell from 2.7 in 1986 to 0.15 in 1993.

Mobil Chemical Co. reduced workers compensation costs by 70 % during the years it was qualifying its plants for VPP. The reduction has been sustained through 1993.

As you know, insurers can do a great deal to assist employers in advancing workplace safety. For example, Travelers Insurance Companies helped a manufacturer of curtains and other sewn products whose workforce had severe repetitive motion injury problems. With Travelers' help, the company instituted a comprehensive safety management system that resulted in reducin injury and illness cases from 23.5 per 100 workers to 14.6 per 100 workers in one year. There was an 89 % reduction in the costs of losses. The program featured management commitment, a labor-management team to analyze the claims record and safety practices, interviews with workers on safety issues, recommendations from workers on how to improve safety, and teambuilding between management and labor.

Travelers also assisted a Louisiana crane manufacturer to cut its lost workday rate by 67 % and its total case rate 48% in one year. Dollar costs of losses were reduced 80 %. The program included involvement of top management, commitment of key personnel, a willingness to change, analysis of root causes and organizational issues contributing to employee injuries, and development and implementation of solutions. A safety committee was established and supervisors and managers were trained in accident investigation. Weekly production meetings start with the discussion of safety issues.

Those are the kind of success stories we welcome from the insurance industry. With this kind of assistance for your clients, we believe you can help them qualify for VPP participation. We'll be sending you information on how to do that.

We also want to increase our assistance to small businesses. In FY 1995, state consultants funded by OSHA are projected to conduct 23,000 visits, mostly to help small businesses who need help in complying with our standards. We have requested additional funds to increase that number to 25,000 in FY 1996.

In sum, OSHA is working hard to improve its focus on real improvements in safety and health, to simplify its protective regulations, to assist employers who want to comply with them, and to target our limited resources at the most dangerous hazards and worksites.

But Congress is moving so fast to "deregulate" industry that many of these valuable OSHA programs may be destroyed.

On Capitol Hill, the House has passed legislation to impose a one-year moratorium on all new regulations and to rescind $19.5 million from OSHA's current budget. But the Senate appears to have adopted a more moderate approach, calling for a 45-day Congressional review period for major new regulations and a cut of only $6.5 million in our current budget. The outcome is uncertain.

But we are not taking a wait and see approach. We are moving forward to make OSHA work better for you -- and with you.

There is a lively debate going on about OSHA and its future. At one extreme are proposals to gut enforcement and stop development of protective standards -- proposals that would send a wrecking ball through basic protections for working men and women. At the other extreme is a tenacious hold on a vision of the past -- an OSHA that enforces and intimidates employers with safety and health management.

In the middle -- often a lonely and treacherous ground in Washington, D.C., these days -- is a new OSHA -- one that represents common sense at work in enforcement and regulation -- that forges partnerships between workers, management, and government, that educates trains and recognizes excellent performance, and, yes, which enforces serious consequences for serious violations.

As leaders in the insurance industry, you can help us build that new OSHA.
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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