Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 10/25/1995
• Presented To: National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.
9:30 A.M. OCT. 25, 1995

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be with you in this opening session of what I hope will be a very informative and productive week for you. I am particularly pleased that you allowed me to be one of your opening speakers because it emphasizes your commitment to worksite safety and health.

The efforts of management and labor, working with OSHA, are having a positive impact on worksite safety and health in construction.

The RATE of injuries and illnesses in construction has dropped--from 13.1 cases per 100 workers in 1992 to 12.2 in 1993. Lost workday injury rates have also declined from 5.8 cases in 1992 to 5.5 in 1993, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (In fact there has been a decline in the injury and illness rate in the industry for five of the last six years and a decline in the lost workday injury rate each of the six years.) There have been similar decreases in plumbing, heating and air conditioning. The rate of injuries and illnesses in your industry dropped from 15.0 cases per 100 worker in 1992 to 14.0 in 1993. Lost workday injury rates in your industry have also declined from 5.8 cases in 1991 to 5.5 in 1993, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But there is still a great deal to be done. In 1994, the construction industry had the greatest number of occupational fatalities due to injuries--1,027--of all industry groups, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The next highest industry group was transportation and public utilities with 944 fatalities.) That's an average of three construction workers killed each day. Seventy-one of those 1,027 deaths were in your industry. OSHA, with the help of contractors and workers, is striving hard to reduce the total.

Workers' compensation earned premiums for construction as well as incurred losses for the industry have almost practically doubled in the past decade---from $3.2 billion in earned premiums in 1984 to $6.3 billion in 1993 and $2.8 billion in incurred losses in 1984 to $5 billion in 1993, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance. However, the results for the industry in 1993 represented a significant improvement over the previous year ($5 billion in losses in 1993 compared to $6 billion in 1992). This was attributed to workers' compensation reform efforts in the various states, and an overall increase in safety efforts which resulted in fewer losses.

We'd like to be able to take some credit for the improvements, because we know OSHA works despite the tremendous gap between OSHA's 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. We know we must change the way we do business in order to narrow that gap. We have to reinvent ourselves. PUBLIC WANTS REFORM, NOT ROLLBACKS A poll conducted recently for the Council for Excellence in Government 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 agree 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.

But 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.

Clearly, 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.

We're trying to provide the most bang for the taxpayer buck. We are in the midst of building a New OSHA, of reinventing worker safety and health efforts in America. President Clinton is vitally concerned with workplace safety issues. Just a few months ago, he and Vice President Gore joined workers and management at a Washington DC manufacturer to emphasize that commitment. On that day, he described the three strategies involved in developing the New OSHA. They are: 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.

As part of the overall strategy, we have developed a number of common sense initiatives specifically for the construction industry. FOCUSED INSPECTIONS OSHA's time can be more effectively spent investigating the most dangerous workplace conditions in construction. We do that by determining who is the controlling contractor on the construction 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: falls from elevations; being struck by machines or materials; being caught in trenching collapses or between a vehicle and another surface; and electrical shock.

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.

This new policy became effective last October 1. So far 30% of the construction projects visited by Federal OSHA nationally have qualified for and received focused inspections. This is a good start -- one the construction industry can be proud of. We are hoping that the percentage will increase significantly as we proceed with the program and more contractors become aware of its existence.

Focused inspections also will expand the use of safety and health programs in the industry. Subcontractors such as plumbing, heating and cooling contractors will benefit when the general contractor has a good safety and health program. Also, of course, as subcontractors you, too, need to have safety and health programs.

A year ago, in FY 94, the most frequently cited standard in construction inspections was the hazard communication standard, with almost 15,000 citations. In FY 95, with focused inspections, the citations for hazcom in construction dropped to less than 7,000. (The most frequently violated standard in construction was scaffolding, with 7,300 citations.) We plan to apply the principles of focused enforcement in other industries besides construction. CONSTRUCTION RECOGNITION PROGRAMS We are expanding recognition programs for workplaces with strong demonstrations of worker participation and management commitment to comprehensive hazard recognition and control. For construction, we have developed a Construction Safety Excellence Demonstration Program (CSEDP), comparable to the Star program in our Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) for general industry.

The difference is that the construction company, not the worksite as in VPP, applies for program participation. It's set up this way because most construction sites aren't around long enough to meet certain VPP requirements.

The advantage to the construction employer is that this type of program will result in lower injuries and illnesses, reduced worker's compensation costs, higher productivity and enhanced standing in the community. In addition, the sites will be removed from the list for programmed inspections, although they can still be inspected if there are worker complaints or a catastrophic accident.

A common thread of partnership between OSHA, the employer and the workers to achieve strong safety and health programs runs through these activities. We are currently developing a proposal for a standard for safety and health programs.

For firms with such strong and effective health and safety programs, we will offer partnership. If employer implement safety and health + programs and work with their employees and OSHA to eliminate hazards and reduce illnesses, they will be placed on the lowest-priority list for inspections and on the highest-priority list for assistance.

Those firms that do not step up their efforts to ensure safety in the workplace will continue to face strong and traditional OSHA enforcement procedures. For those who have a history of endangering their employees and are unwilling to change, OSHA will rigorously enforce the law without compromise to ensure that there are serious consequences for serious violators. We recently proposed record penalties of $8.2 million against a construction contractor, Samsung Guam, Inc., following investigation of a worker fatality at the Guam International Air Terminal expansion and renovation project. It is the largest penalty ever proposed in a construction industry case and was based on 118 alleged willful violations of requirements for protection against fall hazards. COMMON SENSE REGULATIONS We are developing common sense regulation by negotiating, not dictating, safety and health standards. We are very near consensus on a negotiated proposal for the steel erection standard in construction.

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

Hazard Communication. We asked the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health to convene a working group to identify ways of improving hazard communication in the workplace. We are seeking 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. That working group began meeting last week.

Recordkeeping. We've made good progress in discussions on simplification and improvement of the recordkeeping regulations. We hope to issue a proposal soon on that. We expect the revision will provide a greatly simplified injury and illness recordkeeping system for employers; give improved information concerning occupational injuries and illnesses; the usefulness of injury and illness records at the establishment or worksite level; improve employee awareness and involvement in safety and health efforts; and allow increased use of modern technology including computers and telecommunications equipment, We also reviewed all of our regulations, page by page, and have reported to the President that we're taking steps to eliminate more than a thousand pages of regulations. We are rewriting some outdated and confusing standards into plain English.

Additionally, we have developed a priority list for new standards and are following it. We are prioritizing risks using sound science with the assistance of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the participation of labor, management and safety and health professional organizations. COMMON SENSE ENFORCEMENT We also are injecting some simple common sense into enforcement.

Citations for violations of paperwork requirements are declining. In FY 93, two years ago, we issued more that 3,400 citations for not putting up the required OSHA posters. It was the 24th most frequently cited OSHA violation. Today poster citations don't even show up on the list of frequently cited violations. Instead of handing the employer a citation, we hand out a poster. In FY 93, we issued more than 4,400 violations for failing to properly keep the log of injuries and illnesses. The total for those recordkeeping violations dropped to 2,500 in FY 95.

In Chicago, the OSHA regional office cooperated with the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland and Plumbers Local 130 on a common sense approach to enforcement of the lead in construction standard that will insure the health of the plumbing workers while at the same time saving their employers tens of thousands of dollars in costs. The plumbing contractors' association was able to demonstrate to OSHA that during a normal construction operation in Chicago, using well-trained certified plumbers, the employees would not be exposed to levels of lead above or even near the federal exposure limit. OSHA agreed that initial monitoring for lead in air levels would not be required for the work processes identified in the plumbing contractors' studies.

However, if airborne lead does pose a risk to workers in certain situations, the employers must take appropriate steps, including initial monitoring. One official of the plumbing council estimated that more than $400,000 in monitoring and productivity costs will be saved. FOCUS ON RESULTS We're focusing on results -- not red tape. This involves significantly changing OSHA's culture.

Good intentions and good policy at the national office level will not benefit workers or employers unless they actually experience it at the workplace. This means changing OSHA service delivery in the field.

Culture changes do not happen overnight.

But we can take a page from the best managed businesses in America and apply principles of total quality management, customer service, front line worker participation, flattening hierarchies, using information technology, and so on, to achieve incredible performance improvements.

One place to start is with OSHA's performance measurement system. As you all know, if you're not measuring something, you're not managing it.

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.

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 will convert five offices every quarter until all 67 OSHA area offices are redesigned.

We are improving the way the OSHA responds to workers' complaint about hazardous conditions. Our goal is to get faster correction of problems. We also want to assist employers in getting complaints settled as quickly as possible so we're expediting the process with phone calls and faxed forms.

An interesting thing happened in our Atlanta office with this process recently. Following a complaint from a Delta Airlines employee, our compliance officer called the corporate headquarters, and got a vice-president on the phone. He told him he was an OSHA inspector, that we had received a compliant, and the nature of the compliant, and asked "What's your side of the story?" The Delta vice-president started making frantic phone calls, and immediately pulled together a meeting of key personnel. Once they were all gathered, they spent an hour discussing the phone call--the issue was whether or not it was a hoax! Finally, the vice president said, "I don't care who called. I gave a commitment to find out what the situation is." The complainant was quite surprised to see staff from the corporate level in the shop so quickly. There was a problem and it was corrected.

Field offices already have sharply reduced the time from receipt of a non-formal compliant to abatement of the hazard. Let me give you a few examples, Atlanta East reduced the median days to secure employer abatement of a hazard for 32.5 days to 8.5, Columbus for 35 to 11 days, Kansas City from 46.5 to 24, and Wichita from 39 to 9. We are getting similar successful results on non-formal complaints in area offices throughout the nation, and we are developing a test program for expediting the handling formal complaints. NEW DIRECTORATE OF CONSTRUCTION Soon I hope to announce the accomplishment of a long-sought goal. We will convert our Office of Construction and Engineering into a Directorate of Construction that will be a "one-stop" shop for anyone interested in construction safety and health, including employers, workers, other Government agencies and academia. All OSHA's activities involving construction including safety and health compliance assistance, statistics, training, standards, and cooperative programs will either be under the new Directorate of Construction or coordinated through the Directorate. Bruce Swanson, who had headed the Office of Construction and Engineering, will be the director of Construction.

This is the result of long-standing requests by contractors and the building trades unions for OSHA to concentrate and specialize its focus in the construction industry.

We want to do more in training and education, particularly on spelling out the elements of a safe construction worksite. The number of private sector personnel we have been training in construction courses at the OSHA Training Institute and OTI education centers has been steadily increasing. In FY 94 there were more than 2,000 from the private sector trained in construction courses at the Institute and education centers. They were supervisors, union representatives, mainly working on apprenticeship programs, and consultants. Additionally, another 40,000 were trained under the construction "train the trainer" program. I believe this further emphasizes the construction industry's commitment to improving workplace safety and health. THREATS IN CONGRESS The biggest obstacle to the reinvention of OSHA is the Congress. It's a triple-threat rollback of worker protection:

1. So-called regulatory reform.

2. So-called OSHA reform, and 3. Budget cuts Regulatory reform pretends to require better science and economics in rulemaking. What it would do is create a bonanza for lawyers by creating a labyrinth of procedures that have a beginning and no end.

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.

Ballenger's bill is not reform; it is destructive. It is an extreme proposal that would wipe out effective enforcement and protect the least safe employers. It would prevent enforcement of the general duty clause, provide for penalty citations only when a serious injury or death occurs, repeal the basic objective of health protection and require in every case the workers concerned about health problems complain to their employer first before they ask the government for help.

This bill would roll back 25 years of progress.

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 the present force of only 1,100 inspectors for more than 6 million workplaces by up to a half. 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.

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. ERGONOMICS The House budget bill for OSHA also includes a rider to block OSHA's efforts to identify and address work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are more that 700,000 lost workday injuries and illnesses related to MSDs each year. Our research indicates that certain types of musculoskeletal disorders such as lower back disorders and carpal tunnel syndrome are very prevalent in construction. Work-related MSDs account for one of every three dollars spent on workers' compensation -- about $200 billion a year. We have asked the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health to review MSDs issues specific to the construction industry.

We know there are ergonomic solutions to these problems. Yet the House rider would prevent OSHA from spending funds "for the promulgation or issuance" of a proposed ergonomic standard, a final standard, or voluntary guidelines on ergonomic protection. It also would prohibit the agency from "recording or reporting" musculoskeletal disorders.

This last provision in the rider is particularly ironic. Critics of OSHA's efforts to find ergonomic solutions have accused us of "bad science." How can we ever have "good science" if we cannot even collect the necessary data? Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich has rightly termed the House 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.

The New OSHA means common sense at work. I think that's what the American people want: business, labor and government cooperating to improve worker health and safety.

Safe and healthful workplaces are good for workers. That's obvious. They are also good for employers because safe and healthful workplaces are profitable and competitive.

I salute your efforts to improve safety and health in the plumbing and heating and cooling industry. And I look forward to working with you as we move toward the day when every working man and woman in the country leaves for work and comes home to their family in the same condition they left.
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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