Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 06/21/1995
• Presented To: American Society of Safety Engineers, Professional Development Conference
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

8:00 A.M. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21, 1995

Thank you Stew, and thank you for all the help you've given OSHA as a member of the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. I'd also like to thank and applaud your president, Margaret Carroll, for her leadership, and for the work of ASSE and all of the safety and health professionals that are your members.

I'm sure you know, these are extraordinary times in Washington. I'm never sure how much of what goes on Inside the Beltway actually makes it outside of the Beltway. But one of my favorite examples is a recent interview I did. The crew was setting up in my office and the producer and were just making some small talk about the upcoming interview. The producer then gave me a tremendous jolt of confidence by telling me that I was going to be a great interviewee. I was feeling pretty good about that compliment until he added, "yeah, you've got hair, and no glasses."

That should give you some idea of what counts in Washington these days. But I'll concede that there are some pretty mixed messages from the public about what they want. There was a poll recently done for an organization called the Council for Excellence in Government. It asked a thousand adult Americans their opinions of government at all levels, federal, state and local, and across a variety of activities--including regulatory programs. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement "Government has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the free market system," a not too surprising 73% strongly or somewhat agreed. That explains why regulatory reform efforts in Congress seem to have so much support.

The poll also asked if respondents agreed or disagreed with this statement, "Workplaces are much safer as a result of government regulation than they would be if business was left to its own devices."

Seventy-two percent of the people surveyed agreed with that statement.

It sounds like people don't know what they think. It sounds contradictory. But, I don't think there's a contradiction there at all. What I understand the message from those responses to be is this: The public is not satisfied with the performance of regulatory programs. They want more value for the tax money they put in. But they also want the protections that workplace safety and health, or environmental, or food safety, or other government protective programs provide. They're not willing to trust their fate willy-nilly to those who merely seek profits.

So I think the message is that we need to reform, or reinvent as we call it, regulatory programs like OSHA's, but we do not need to roll back the protections that working men and women have.

There is a vision of OSHA on Capitol Hill, but it has a new name. It's now the Occupational Safety and Health Advisers. This OSHA is half as big as the present OSHA. It has no partner at NIOSH -- the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health -- because NIOSH is gone. It can't issue citations or penalties on any first inspection unless some criminal act has occurred. It has, in effect, no enforcement capability whatsoever. It has no general duty clause to impose a requirement on employers to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards. And this OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Advisers, can't promulgate health or safety standards, because new procedural requirements have an opening, but no end.

That's not really a vision, is it? It's a nightmare. And you know what? Every element that just described of this new OSHA is now a serious proposal in the 104th Congress. I guess we could call it "The Nightmare on Capitol Hill."

I make my rounds on Capital Hill and I hear fantastic stories about OSHA. The story that we banned the Tooth Fairy. I spent time in front of a congressional committee actually debating whether we had or had not banned the Tooth Fairy. I don't know whether that qualifies as a weighty policy debate in Congress, but it is an all-too common practice for Members to get up on the floor and give one-minute speeches: OSHA requires material safety data sheets for Joy dishwashing liquid and Wite-out. We've fined roofers for chewing gum on the job. The stories go on and on.

They belittle and demean the mission of the organization and they debase the debate about the importance of these programs.

Moreover, there is an important story that's missing when these fables are repeated. That story is this. OSHA saves lives.

In the 24 years that OSHA has been working, the rate of fatal occupational injuries in the United States has been cut in half. OSHA's protective standards literally make the difference between life and death for millions of working men and women. Whether it's the cotton dust standard, which has virtually eliminated brown lung disease in the textile industry; the lead standard which reduced by two-thirds blood poisoning in workers in smelting plants and battery plants; the grain dust standard which in five years reduced fatalities by 58 percent in grain elevators, reduced injuries by over 40 percent; or even something as seemingly mundane as a trenching standard, which since 1990 has helped reduce fatalities from trench cave-ins by 35 percent. OSHA saves lives.

And our enforcement programs make a difference. A study of manufacturing inspections done by OSHA found that in the three years following an OSHA inspection that had economic penalties, the injury rates were reduced by 22 percent.

If you look at where OSHA has concentrated its enforcement attention over a long period of time, from 1975 to 1993, almost 85 percent of our inspections were done in manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas extraction. What's happened to injury and illness rates in those industries during that time period? They've gone down. In industries that garnered about 15 percent of our enforcement attention -- wholesale, retail, health care, financial services -- the injury and illness rates went up.

Now, I'm not trying to make a case that the status quo is acceptable. Far from it. As I told you last year and say again today, if this is a typical day in our country, 17 workers will die. They will leave their homes and go to work and not come back. We don't have a good way of estimating the number of workers who die as a result of disease contracted at work, but take the most conservative estimates around. It works out to about 50,000 deaths a year -- 137 a day. Add those two up -- accidents and illness killing over 150 workers a day. That's like a plane crashing every day in this country.

Now if a plane crashed every day in this country, the uproar would be enormous. The public would say this is intolerable. We demand action.

But since these deaths occur singly or several at a time all around the country, the perception and the feeling that workplace safety and health is a significant public health issue, is absent. It explains some of OSHA's current vulnerability.

How are we going to change this? Well, we need to reinvent OSHA.

Last month President Clinton stood up for workplace safety and health. He stood up for OSHA. He said more about workplace safety and health and the importance of protecting the right of working men and women to have a safe and healthful environment than any President since OSHA came into existence.

He said there are three parts to the reinvention of OSHA, three strategies Giving employers a choice, a partnership if they want to work together to improve workplace safety and health; or traditional enforcement. Common sense regulation in how we develop and enforce regulations. And third, having an OSHA which measures results, not red tape.

How are we going to translate these strategies into action?

To offer employers a choice--a partnership or a traditional enforcement relationship -- we need to encourage and create incentives for employers to adopt and implement health and safety programs. You understand as well as anyone in the country the power of a management program to address safety and health issues. By an effective program, we mean a safety and health program that has management commitment, has worker participation -- genuine, real worker participation--succeeds in finding and fixing real hazards on the job, and over time, achieves results in terms of lower injury and illness rates.

This is not an abstract theoretical idea whipped up into a reinvention paper. We know these ideas work. We know from experience. From our Maine 200 program where we identified employers with a large number of workers compensation claims and gave them a choice -- a compliance inspection or a safety and health program. The participating Maine employers self-identified 14 times more hazards than OSHA could have found if we had relied on our traditional strategy of physical inspection of workplaces.

So we're going to nationalize that Maine 200 concept. Not duplicate the program itself, but nationalize the concept--worksite specific data, safety and health programs that get real results.

We know from our Focused Inspection in Construction Program. That program tells construction employers, if you have a safety and health program and a competent person on-site and there is an OSHA compliance inspection, that inspection will concentrate on the four leading killers of construction workers -- falls, electrocutions, trenches, or being struck by objects and material handling. If we don't see problems in that area, we'll move on. We want to extend this concept of focused inspection into general industry, and we'll be working with ASSE and other organizations this summer to identify hazards and industries where the focus concept can be applied.

These new programs provide OSHA with an opportunity to differentiate the low road employers--for whom enforcement is the only way to send a message that treating workers as expendable is unacceptable in this country--and the high road employers who get their recognition through the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and other programs. It also allows us to apply penalties on a sliding scale.

For employers with superior safety and health programs, this could mean up to 100 percent reduction of penalties. For others who are striving, lesser reduction. But a way of recognizing employer good faith. These are enormously important changes.

And while we're talking about the importance of safety and health programs, let me mention ergonomics. Lately, it hasn't been safe or healthy to talk about ergonomics. When I recently acknowledged that Congressional intent was going to make it difficult to issue a standard of the breadth necessary to attack the problem, it was reported that we were dropping the standard. I know a lot of you will be happy when I tell you it's not true. OSHA has not abandoned its work on an ergonomic protection standard.

The growing number of musculoskeletal disorders--more than 700,000 in 1992--mandates that OSHA use all of its available resources to address this workplace epidemic. 60% of all occupational illnesses reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics were disorders associated with repeated trauma. And the median lost worktime for carpal tunnel syndrome, just one of many work-related musculoskeletal disorders, is more than 30 days. That is greater than for any other illness or injury, including fractures and amputations.

More than one of every three dollars of workers' compensation costs is attributable to these illnesses, costing employers some $20 billion annually. Lost productivity, employee turnover and other indirect costs attributable to these illnesses add tens of billions of dollars more. Fortunately, most of these illnesses can be prevented. In recent years, we've heard from dozens of employers who have implemented ergonomics programs and reaped dramatic reductions in their workers compensation costs as a result.

And so the question is not whether to proceed with an ergonomic protection standard--but how to proceed. I know that you have been following our progress, and I appreciate all of your input. We are currently weighing our options, and I hope to let you know of our decision soon. Be assured that in the meantime OSHA will use its available resources to support education, training, consultation and enforcement activities to address this workplace epidemic.

This is a good example of setting regulations by using OSHA partners--the second part of our new strategy. We need to set priorities, and we're doing that.

We need to negotiate, not dictate safety and health standards, and we're doing that. We are currently negotiating the steel erection standard in construction.

We are also using partnerships with business and labor to address other challenging workplace health and safety issues like:

Hazard Communication. We want the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health to convene a working group to identify ways to improve hazard communication in the workplace. We want recommendations that will enable OSHA to focus on the most serious hazards, simplify material safety data sheets, reduce the amount of required paperwork, and improve the effectiveness of worker training under hazard communication.

Record keeping. We've made good progress in a policy dialogue of facilitated discussion on simplification and improvement of the recordkeeping regulations. I hope to have support and issue a proposal soon on that.

We also engaged in a page-by-page review of all of our regulations at the direction of the President and have reported to him on that.

The third element of our strategy is focusing on results -- not red tape -- and involves significantly changing OSHA's culture. This is public management, and I've never found a subject quite so easily capable of putting audiences to sleep or turning off the policy types. But this is the heart of the change that I hope OSHA will be able to make.

It has always been OSHA's practice to look at activities. How many inspections did we do? How many violations did we find per inspection? How many penalty dollars did we collect? It has never been OSHA's practice to look at the ultimate measures of what we're here to do -- to reduce injury, illness, and death--until now.

At the heart of this change in OSHA's culture is a new performance measurement system, a new personnel evaluation system, a new way of working on OSHA's front line.

We call our new way of working in the field GRIP -- Getting Results and Improving Performance. OSHA will 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. We now have pilot projects under way at seven area offices, and will soon be expanding the program to all of OSHA's 67 area offices -- at the rate of five offices every quarter.

We also are strengthening our partnership with the 25 states and territories that operate their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs. We want to encourage them to experiment with innovative ways to prevent injuries and illnesses. Instead of monitoring the states by comparing federal and state activities, OSHA will assess results in each state.

OSHA also has been experimenting successfully with a "quick fix" program of incentives for abating hazards quickly. Under "quick fix," compliance officers reduce penalties for violations that are abated during an inspection. In Parsippany, New Jersey, where this program was piloted it had almost immediate and dramatic results--although most people when I tell them the story find it impossible to believe. On a construction site inspection, an OSHA inspector noted the lack of hardhats, and reported it to the boss. To get the penalties reduced, the foreman gave out hardhats right away, telling all the construction workers to wear them. Within days, a scaffolding collapsed, with a worker on it. A guy passing underneath was able to avoid injury from the falling scaffold because he was wearing a hard hat--and because he was still standing, he was then able to catch the falling worker.

I am committed to making these changes work. I've almost broken some records at OSHA--I've been around 18 months. And l renewed the lease on my house in D.C.

But some people in the bureaucracy are content to treat the current onslaught with "kidney stone management." This too, shall pass.

But hopefully, not this transformation of OSHA's culture. It's central to meeting the needs of workers, the expectation of taxpayers, and advancing the cause of workplace safety and health.

So here's a vision. An OSHA focused on results -- not on activities and procedures. An organization recognized and respected worldwide for its knowledge, its competence, its professionalism, and its results. Respected worldwide.

To get there, we've got some obstacles. One of the larger ones is the Congress. When referred to recent poll results which showed the public was dissatisfied with the performance of regulatory programs but still strongly supportive of government action to protect health, safety and the environment, I explained that the strategy to meet their concerns and support their desire for health and safety was to reinvent OSHA, not roll back protections. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about this. Nothing more clearly illustrates the wrong way than a bill introduced recently by Congressman Ballenger.

If enacted, this bill would send a wrecking ball through the protections that 95 million working men and women depend on. It guts enforcement, grinds standard setting to a halt and reverses twenty-five years of progress. Nothing illustrates the thinking behind this bill more clearly than just one of the items.

The OSH Act makes a simple, fundamental and dignified promise to the workers of the United States. It says the purpose of OSHA is to "assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions." It requires that every employer "shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause serious injury or death.

This bill makes enforcement of this general duty clause impossible. This bill repeals the right to a healthy and safe workplace. You could have it--if your employer decided to provide it. Otherwise--too bad.

The bill includes nothing but rollbacks, reversals and repeals:

no citations unless there is a death or serious injury. This turns prevention on its head! no willful penalties no egregious penalty multiplier. This bill protects employers who treat their workers as expendable. employees wishing to file a complaint against their employer must first notify them of their intention to call OSHA--regardless of the threat of imminent danger or retribution.

This bill is the wrong way to improve safety and health, which if enacted would result in safety and health becoming an optional, advisory service of government. Yet it is a serious proposal by a powerful, intelligent and determined Congressman. Will common sense enforcement and regulation improve OSHA? Yes. Will gutting OSHA's ability to enforce improve worker health and safety? Absolutely not.

Finally, one more Congressional obstacle is the budget. The Senate has approved a budget resolution which would cut OSHA's budget in half. That would mean less enforcement, less protection, less compliance assistance, and more injury, illness, and death in the workplace.

The House is only proposing a 20 percent cut, but their budget proposal would merge us with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Now merging with MSHA maybe sounds superficially interesting, but it's an empty game of moving boxes on an organization chart. We absolutely should not, when there's a pretense of a minuscule increase in OSHA's capacity to protect workplace safety and health, do so at the expense of men and women who work in the mines of this country. We're opposed to that change.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. On the one hand, a vision of going backwards, of regressing, of seeing what we've dedicated our professional lives to being unwound before our very eyes.

On the other hand, a way forward. A development of partnerships -- of business, labor, government, of professional associations. Of finding and building a common ground between employers and workers, and demonstrating that safe and healthful workplaces are not just good for people, they're good for business. They are productive and profitable workplaces.

So as you go back to where you work, I ask you to think in these terms.

We are very fortunate. We work for good organizations and we have great work to do. When we do our work and succeed, we make a real difference in the lives of people.

But right now as we sit here in these comfortable surroundings, there are millions of our fellow Americans at work who are needlessly at risk. Eighty percent of America's families over the past 15 years have seen their real incomes decline -- 80 percent of Americans have seen their real incomes decline. They're watching the downsizing of corporations. They're more insecure and afraid of the future than we've been for years and years.

We have the opportunity to think concretely about ways that their dignity as people can be respected at work; their interests in their lives and livelihoods can be advanced; and we need to work every day in any capacity we serve -- as executives, as front line workers -- and lead this country forward, not backwards, and make it possible for every working man and woman who leaves home in the morning to come home at the end of the day and see their families the way they left.

Thank you very much.
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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