Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 10/04/1995
• Presented To: The Food Group
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

REMARKS OF JOSEPH A. DEAR,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH,
BEFORE THE FOOD GROUP
OCTOBER 4, 1995

It's a pleasure to be here with so many representatives of food companies and food industry organizations.

I wonder sometimes if OSHA can ever win. I was heartened by the results of the recent vote on the new M&M color -- blue has always been one of my favorite colors. But then I saw the commercial where the guy from "WINGS" is talking to a new blue M&M, and asks if he got to "dive into the big chocolate pool?" And the new blue M&M answers, disappointed, "No, man, we can't do that anymore. We have to wade in--with a buddy." Maybe I'm taking it a little personally, but I thought for sure the next line would be "OSHA regulations."

Reality is often vastly different from perception. The reality is that the human and economic cost of preventable workplace injury and illness is staggering. Accidents alone cost the economy more than $112 billion a year. Of course the human cost is incalculable, but huge. But when we hear about workplace safety and health, it is usually some exaggerated story intended to belittle and diminish governmental efforts to prevent injuries and illnesses.

Ah, the OSHA stories. You hear so many of them. OSHA killed the tooth fairy; OSHA thinks bricks are poison; OSHA cites teachers for blackboard chalk. The most important story and the one you are least likely to hear is this. OSHA saves lives.

Since its creation almost 25 years ago, the rate of fatal occupational injuries has been cut by more than 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 in grain elevators by 58 percent and reduced injuries by more than 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 enforcement works. A study of manufacturing inspections done by OSHA found that in the three years following an OSHA inspection that imposed economic penalties, the injury rates were reduced by 22 percent. In areas where OSHA has concentrated its enforcement attention, a study found that between 1975 and 1993 injury and illness rates declined in manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas extraction. In other industries that received less enforcement attention -- wholesale, retail, health care, financial services--the injury and illness rates went up.

I am proud of this record. It truly is a story that needs to be told. But, no one should be satisfied with the status quo. We can and must do better. We need to continue to reinvent OSHA. We need to change the way we operate both internally and externally because of the huge and growing gap between OSHA's mission and resources -- 93 million workers employed at more than 6 million workplaces to be covered by OSHA with a budget of just over $312 million and less than 2,100 inspectors -- and because the public wants and demands that government programs dramatically improve their performance.

Consider a poll recently done for 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," 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 also agreed with that statement. The public clearly 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 the values of private market forces.

We are answering the public's call for reform, not rollback. Reinventing workplace safety and health is a top initiative for the President. When he and Vice President Gore joined workers and management at a Washington, D.C., manufacturing plant a few months ago, the President described three strategies for the New OSHA:

* Giving employers a choice --- employees, employers and OSHA working together as partners to improve worksite safety and health, or facing traditional OSHA enforcement;

* Using common sense in developing and enforcing regulations; and

* Measuring accomplishments in terms of results in reducing injuries and illnesses, not further red tape.

That New OSHA is here today. OSHA reinvention is in the process of being implemented throughout the country. We ARE giving employers a choice. One such program began in Maine. There we identified the 200 employers with the largest number of workers compensation claims and gave them a choice -- a regular compliance inspection or development of an effective safety and health program that would reduce injuries and illnesses. All but two accepted the idea of an effective safety and health program. Participating employers self-identified 14 times more workplace hazards than OSHA could have found using the traditional strategy of workplace inspection. Six out of ten employers in the Maine program have already experienced a decline in their lost workday-injury rate -- a decline that will result in lower compensation costs.

That concept -- using worksite specific data for safety and health programs that get real results -- is being implemented throughout the country. We're also taking a focused inspection approach in the construction area -- telling construction employers, if you have a good safety and health program and there is an OSHA compliance inspection, that inspection will concentrate on the four leading killers of construction workers -- falls, electrocutions, crushing injuries (for example, trench cave-ins), and being struck by falling objects or vehicles. If we don't see problems in these areas, we'll move on. This is a successful approach that we want to extend into general industry. Again, this is a an approach that will benefit employers, encouraging them to focus on the most costly hazards.

These new approaches give OSHA 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), which recognizes safety and health excellence at a worksite, and other programs. These approaches also allow us to apply penalties on a sliding scale.

For employers with superior safety and health programs, this could mean a very significant reduction of penalties. For others who are striving, lesser reduction, but still a way of recognizing employer good faith. These are enormously important changes.

We are expanding recognition programs for workplaces that demonstrate strong worker participation and management commitment to comprehensive hazard recognition and control. In 1994, we added more than 80 new sites to our Voluntary Protection Programs, expanding our safety and health excellence recognition program by more than 75 percent. We now have 208 sites in the Federal VPP program and another 20 in State Plan VPP programs, with 60 applications for Federal VPP membership pending.

The food industry is well represented in VPP, including sites of Icicle Seafoods; Tropicana Products, Inc.; Seaboard Farms; Aurora, Inc.; Adair Foods Co., Tyson Foods, Inc.; and Nabisco. These employers and their workers recognize that the benefits of VPP membership are considerable -- lower injuries and illnesses, lower workers' compensation payments, higher productivity and enhanced community standing, and an exemption from programmed inspections. There are plenty of other individual safety and health success stories in the food industry.

For example, Cargill, Inc., instituted strong programs to control musculoskeletal disorders in a Missouri turkey processing plant following an OSHA inspection and citations. The result was an 83% drop in lost workdays in 1993 and a 98% drop in lost workdays in 1994. Turnover was sharply reduced. Cargill said that it had savings of $3,500 per worker in workers' compensation costs and that its program to control such disorders paid for itself through these reduced workers' comp costs.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, Kluener Packing, Inc., a small meatpacking firm, decided to work with the OSHA-funded Ohio Consultation program to reduce its injuries and illnesses. As a result, the lost workday injury rate dropped from 16.3 in 1988 to 3.0 in 1994. Kluener became a member of the State's recognition program as a reward for its good performance in occupational safety and health.

The second part of our reinvention strategy is developing common sense regulation by negotiating, not dictating safety and health standards. For example, we are currently negotiating the steel erection standard in construction. The hearings on the proposal for a new respiratory protection standard featured a novel interactive panel discussion requested by respirator manufacturers. The panel gave OSHA much important information toward achieving an improved final product.

We are also using partnerships with business and labor to address other challenging workplace health and safety issues such as hazard communication and recordkeeping. The President also wants us to address emerging occupational hazards, such as work-related musculoskeletal disorders and indoor air quality, including effects of second-hand smoke in the work environment. These work-related musculoskeletal disorders are not simply minor aches and pains but debilitating injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome that can affect many life activities of a worker, including driving a car, typing, picking up a child or even writing. BLS estimates that there are more than 700,000 lost workday injuries and illnesses related to musculoskeletal disorders each year. They represent the worst occupational health hazard in the American workplace today and account for one of every three dollars spent on workers' compensation or about $20 billion a year. What's more, the problem is getting worse. BLS data show an increase in repeated trauma cases (for example, carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder tendinitis) from 22,700 in 1981 to 302,000 in 1993.

There is a solution -- ergonomics. It means fitting the job to the person to improve efficiency, productivity and quality and to protect worker health, including the reduction of stress. OSHA has been working on the ergonomics solution to musculoskeletal disorders for several years. Many of our colleagues around the world have realized the seriousness of this type of injuries and already have standards and guidelines. Here in the United States, OSHA has used enforcement and compliance assistance with some success, particularly in the automobile and meatpacking industries. In 1990, we issued voluntary guidelines for ergonomic program management in the meatpacking industry.

And in August, 1992, we issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on an ergonomic program management standard. Since then, the agency has: reviewed hundreds of written comments and thousands of scientific articles on ergonomics; conducted a survey of 3,200 establishments to determine what employers have been doing to solve the problem; visited sites to see how ergonomics programs work in practice; field tested some proposals to see if they work from a practical standard; conducted stakeholder meetings to enable the regulated community to participated in the rulemaking; and released a pre-proposal draft which has been accessed electronically by computer more than 15,000 times.

We have not yet proposed an ergonomic standard. But there are those in Congress who want us to halt all our efforts to address this workplace epidemic because, as one congressman said, "no one ever died from ergonomics." A rider on our budget bill that passed the House would prevent OSHA from spending any money for the "promulgation or issuance" of a proposed standard, a final standard, or voluntary guidelines on ergonomic protection. The rider also would prohibit the agency from "recording or reporting" musculoskeletal disorders.

We would not even be able to collect data on MSDs to determine how many workers are being hurt, and in what jobs and industries they are being injured. Without data on the problem, any dialogue on the issue would be based on politics rather than science. We are continuing to wrestle with the problem of how to move forward in a hostile climate, and we hope to make decisions soon on the direction of our ergonomic rulemaking.

We also have stepped up to another 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. The Washington Post recently reported that "nicotine levels in offices with unrestricted smoking were more than triple the amount considered hazardous by US regulatory standards." The researchers also said that exposure to the levels of nicotine found in the study for eight hours a day over forty years creates a lung cancer risk of three in 10,000. But, they say, secondhand smoke has an even greater affect on heart disease. Secondhand smoke may cause 30,000 to 50,000 US non-smokers to die each year from heart disease, compared with 3000 similar deaths from lung cancer.

Our proposal has evoked the biggest response in OSHA history, with more than 100,000 comments already received. Hearings ran from September, 1994, to March, 1995, and attracted testimony from 300 witnesses. We are now in a post-hearing comment period that runs until Nov. 13. After that we will go through all the testimony and comments and decide our next step. We also reviewed all of our regulations and have reported to the President that we're taking steps to eliminate more than a thousand pages of regulations. Additionally, we have developed a priority list for new standards and are following it.

And we're focusing on results -- not red tape. This involves significantly changing OSHA's culture. In the past, we've looked 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. And we are getting a grip. OSHA is changing 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 attempts to solve the problems. The field offices 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 operating 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.

I am committed to making all these changes work. Sadly, it is all in jeopardy.

Congress has taken a different approach...so-called OSHA reform legislation. The legislation introduced by Congressman Cass Ballenger of North Carolina would literally gut efforts to protect workers through enforcement and bring standard-setting to a halt. The bill is the wrong way to improve safety and health. If enacted it would result in safety and health becoming an optional, advisory service of government. Will common sense enforcement and regulation improve OSHA? Yes. Will gutting OSHA's ability to enforce standards improve worker health and safety? Absolutely not! The Occupational Safety and Health Act makes a simple, fundamental and dignified promise to United States workers. 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," and 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." The Ballenger bill would make enforcement of this general duty clause impossible.

The OSH Act also states that the Secretary of Labor is charged with setting standards dealing with toxic materials or harmful physical agents which "most adequately assure, to the extent feasible, on the basis of the best available evidence, that no employee will suffer material impairment of health, or functional capacity even if such employee has regular exposure to the hazard dealt with by such standard for the period of his working life." The Ballenger bill would repeal that language. This bill repeals the right to a healthy and safe workplace. You could have it -- if your employer decided to provide it. The bill includes rollbacks, reversals and repeals that will unwind 25 years of progress including:

    *  no citations unless there is a death or 
       serious injury.  This turns 
       prevention on its head! 
    *  Willful Penalties 
    *  no egregious penalty multiplier.  Serious 
       consequences for serious violators?  This 
       bill protects unsafe employers.
    *  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.

The Ballenger bill also would abolish the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the only entity in the nation capable of performing the studies needed to develop the data necessary to protect American workers from emerging workplace hazards.

And, as if we needed one more Congressional obstacle, there's the budget. The House approved a FY 1996 budget for OSHA that would cut OSHA enforcement funding by a third. It would mean shrinking by up to a half the present force of only 1,100 inspectors for more than 6 million workplaces. Yet, OSHA inspections have caused significant declines in injuries and illnesses. The disruption and loss of resources resulting from a 33% reduction in OSHA enforcement would result in an estimated 50,000 additional injuries and illnesses that could otherwise have been prevented -- increasing the costs to American business and workers.

The appropriations measure would increase funding for state consultation programs by 19%, by shifting funds from enforcement. But many employers request consultation visits because of the potential of an inspection and fine. With deep cuts in OSHA's enforcement program, many of these employers will simply choose to disregard worker safety and health.

OSHA's standard-setting program would be seriously damaged by the proposed reductions, and would be further hindered by a proposed 25% cut in appropriations for NIOSH. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich has rightly termed such budget cuts not a legitimate attempt to balance the budget, but "a war on American workers." Thankfully, the Senate Appropriations Committee took a much more moderate approach, only proposing a 5% cut but the outcome is still very uncertain.

In the meantime, we are operating under tight financial restraints under the continuing resolution. We want to continue building the "New OSHA." Because, although Blue M&Ms may get the most votes from the candy consumers of the world, employers cannot candy coat safety and health. Such programs are the result of management commitment, employee involvement, and true partnerships with the "New OSHA."

But our ability to protect America's working men and women is at risk from a Congress bent on wrong-minded reform. Creating more healthful workplaces can only be possible when there are consequences for those who refuse to do so. And we at OSHA remain committed to ensuring every American's right to a safe and healthful work environment.


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