Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 03/12/1998
• Presented To: Associated General Contractors National Convention New Orleans
• Speaker: Jeffress, Charles N.
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Charles N. Jeffress

Assistant Secretary of Labor for

Occupational Safety and Health

Associated General Contractors

National Convention

New Orleans

March 12, 1998

  • When I agreed to serve as director of the OSHA program in North Carolina, my brother told everyone-including me-that I was crazy. Now that I'm in Washington, he's sure I should be committed! But I believe in this mission of saving lives and preventing injuries and illnesses that we are about in OSHA. My only regret so far is that the Washington-area TV stations don't carry enough Carolina basketball-and this is a great year to be a Tar Heel!
  • OSHA has an impossible task-overseeing the safety and health of more than 100 million workers at 6 million sites. Since we can't be everywhere, we must serve as catalysts for improving safety and health in the workplace, to motivate others to be aggressive about protecting workers, even in the absence of an OSHA inspection.
  • In North Carolina, as many of you know, we fostered a tradition of cooperation and communication among business, labor and OSHA. As head of federal OSHA, I pledge to continue that tradition. We share with business and labor a common mission of reducing workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. That is the yardstick by which we should all be measured. That is also what the public expects for its tax dollars.
  • And on that front, there is good news for construction. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction injury and illness rates continued their decline in 1996: for the third year in a row the construction rate is lower than the rate for manufacturing (FYI 9.9 vs 10.6). I commend you, and I encourage you to keep up the good work.
  • But we all know there is still a way to go-particularly with fatalities, which have not declined over the past four years. We need to take a hard look at fall protection, scaffolding, trenching and electrical hazards. And we still need to do more supervisor and employee safety training.
  • We need to keep pressing to reduce serious injuries. I am especially concerned about fatalities, which remain high in construction. That is the impetus behind OSHA's focused inspections in construction. We need to continue that effort, and I will promote it in OSHA if you will help more contractors qualify for focused inspections.
  • OSHA has embraced the idea that it's time to change ourselves. I fully support Joe Dear's efforts to reinvent OSHA. We need a common sense approach to safety and health. And we need to work together. We need to meet across the table as partners, not across the courtroom as adversaries.
  • For the last several years, the AGC safety committee has taken the initiative in working cooperatively with OSHA. Your safety committee chairman, Jerry Anderson, was invited by Secretary Reich to speak at the ceremony launching OSHA's Director of Construction. You've welcomed an OSHA representative at nearly every safety committee meeting since.
  • Shortly, we will be signing a partnering charter that formalizes the cooperative relationship between AGC and OSHA fostered by Jerry Anderson and your safety committee. It is a statement of principles, symbolizing our commitment to working together to improve safety and health on construction sites. Mutual trust and respect are key to our efforts to provide safe and healthful working conditions for carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers and others who are building America's infrastructure.
  • I want to see the AGC and OSHA develop other new cooperative efforts in construction as well. We need to develop a partnership program that fits constructors with short-term projects. We do have three companies with long-term maintenance projects participating in the current Voluntary Protection Program. We'd like to expand that opportunity to others as well.
  • We will continue working directly with stakeholders on many issues, finding areas of mutual concern and agreement. I am looking forward to meeting with your safety committee later today to exchange views and plans. That is the best way to move forward.
  • We know OSHA needs to do business differently to make a greater impact, and we have a plan-a five year strategic plan. That is the blueprint we will be following.
  • For the first time our plan focuses directly on the bottom line -- preventing injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace -- rather than on counting activities. Yes, we'll still take note of how many inspections we do, how many consultations employers receive and how many standards we issue. Activities are important, but what really matters are results.
  • And the results we're looking for are fewer injuries and illnesses in the workplace. To be exact, we've set a goal of helping employers in 100,000 workplaces reduce their injury and illness rates by 20 percent over the next five years. I believe if we work cooperatively, we can achieve this goal. If we win, you win too. This is a common sense approach to safety and health.
  • In addition to achieving a 20 percent reduction in 100,000 workplaces, we have set a goal of an industry-wide reduction in injuries and illnesses by 15 percent in five specific industries, including construction. Toward that end, President Clinton is asking for a 5.5 percent increase in OSHA's budget for Fiscal Year 1999. That request includes an additional $1.3 million for construction safety along with 10 additional staffers with construction industry expertise.
  • One of the ways we had hoped to achieve the overall goal is through our new Cooperative Compliance Program, or CCP for short. That program is currently on hold as the result of a judicial stay. We've requested an expedited hearing, and we've proposed an alternative inspection targeting system. We hope to hear more from the D.C. Circuit Court later this month on these issues.
  • At the same time, the principles that underlie CCP are sound. And while CCP did not apply to construction, I think we need to consider how those same principles might apply as we seek to work with you to reduce injuries and illnesses. I'd like you to join us in thinking about how we might do something similar with your industry.
  • The first principle underlying the CCP is that OSHA ought to go where agency help is most needed. In the past, we used Bureau of Labor Statistics data and identified high hazard industries. That was a good start. But we've known for a long time that we needed to do better. We essentially have held a lottery, and a small percent of employers in high hazard industries won an inspection. The problem, of course, was that we didn't know which employers really needed our help.
  • For manufacturing, OSHA's data initiative changed all that. Last year, we surveyed 80,000 employers in 20 manufacturing industries and 14 additional high hazard industries. We identified 12,000+ specific worksites that had experienced double or more the average rate of injuries and illnesses. Those are the businesses we invited to join CCP. For those industries, we now know where we're needed. For construction, it's still a roll of the dice.
  • The second principle is that we ought to help those employers reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace. One way to do that is to conduct an inspection-to find violations and require employers to fix them. But I believe there's a better way. That's to help employers set up safety and health programs and let them find and fix their own problems-and watch their injury rates and their workers' compensation rates fall. Then instead of a primary enforcement method, inspections become a double-check that employers are following through on their promises. And we need fewer of them.
  • This brings me to the third principle-we ought to leverage our resources to make the biggest impact in the workplace. That's why I remain sold on CCP. CCP would enable us to accomplish three times as much with the same resources. CCP is a triple win in another way as well -- because employers, employees and OSHA all benefit.
  • I would like to come up with a similar plan for the construction industry. Now that we have the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health rechartered and reconstituted, I think this would be an appropriate issue for the committee to address. When ACCSH meets later this spring, I am going to ask them to work on this. As ACCSH meets with folks in our construction directorate, I believe they can devise a CCP plan that makes sense for your industry.
  • I am looking for your ideas on this. Please share your thoughts with Felipe Devora or Jane Williams or Steve Cloutier or Stewart Burkhammer, who all have strong ties to AGC and will be serving on the committee. Or call Bruce Swanson, who heads the Construction directorate at OSHA, and tell the agency directly.
  • In addition to focusing on our enforcement efforts through the Cooperative Compliance Program, another key element of OSHA's strategic plan is permanent culture change so that safety and health programs become part and parcel of the work environment. Our goal calls for 50 percent of the employers we visit for inspections, and states see for consultations, to implement or improve their safety and health programs.
  • We will be encouraging every employer that we contact to implement a safety and health program. Of course, there are many more employers than we could ever visit. So we will be actively looking for ways to reach the employers we don't visit to encourage them to take advantage of this premier tool for reducing injuries and illnesses in the workplace.
  • Construction employers have long been required by standard to adopt a safety and health program. Projects with an effective program in place also qualify for focused inspections. And, of 6,600 construction sites inspected in fiscal year 1997, nearly 2,000 met the requirements for a focused inspection. That's a greater number of focused inspections than in FY 96, but a lower percentage of the total.
  • Perhaps we can increase the number of sites that qualify for focused inspections by spelling out more clearly what an effective safety and health program should include. The Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health can continue to help us with this.
  • We will be looking particularly at 6 key elements: management leadership; employee participation; hazard assessment; hazard prevention and control; information and training; and program evaluation. Our proposal will be flexible, with appropriate expectations for companies of different sizes in different industries. When we address these issues in construction, we need to do so in a way that suits the unique aspects of your industry. I understand how important that is to you. It is vital to me also, because I am committed to the prospect that before I leave office, an effective safety and health program will become a fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country.
  • I know there are other issues of concern to you as well. We need to look carefully at who is responsible for safety at multi-employer worksites. Is it the general contractor or the subs? I believe it's both. As the supervisor on the site, the general contractor needs to oversee safety and health as the project moves forward. We need to look at the efforts of individual employers but also at overall safety on the site.
  • Let me take a moment to recognize the initiative of your safety committee under Jerry's leadership. For the first time ever, your safety committee invited senior OSHA staff to come to your national office to hear your concerns about a major OSHA policy. While we may not agree on all your points, this open process is what our new partnering charter will perpetuate.
  • Another issue that concerns me greatly is musculoskeletal disorders. Developing an ergonomics standard is my other top priority. I think we need a standard. And I think we can put one together that will reduce pain and disability, without costing employers an arm and a leg.
  • Nearly one of every three illnesses and lost-time injuries in 1995 resulted from overexertion or repetitive motion. That's more than 642,000 cases.
  • The financial cost is staggering-one of every three dollars in workers' compensation costs. That's $20 billion in direct costs. Indirect costs could add as much as $100 billion more.
  • While Congress has prohibited us from issuing a proposal before October 1, 1998, we can develop one, and we are doing that. We're planning a program-oriented standard, based on sound ergonomic principles and focused on serious problems for which effective solutions are known. And we've begun meeting with stakeholders, including representatives of AGC, to ensure that the standard we develop is practical and flexible.
  • I do not anticipate that construction will be covered during the first phase of our ergonomics rulemaking. Some of the problem areas are clear. But the solutions are not so well documented as in general industry.
  • Nevertheless, we do have a start with material and a draft developed by an ACCSH workgroup several years ago. That draft followed a risk factor approach, and as I said, we're now moving toward a program standard. I welcome your recommendations for how we should proceed. We would particularly appreciate your sharing effective practices at our regional ergonomics educational conferences.
  • Other construction regulations that will keep us busy this year include steel erection, fall protection, scaffolds and confined spaces. A proposed steel erection standard is very close, just winding through all of the various departmental and other agency clearances required before we can publish it. As you know, the standard is the product of negotiated rulemaking, and AGC was a major player in that process. We are nearly as close on fall protection.
  • For the others, we're shooting for the summer of 1999. We are going to be working on lockout/tagout issues as well, but don't have a target date for that yet. When we publish our proposals in the Federal Register, I strongly encourage you, either as individuals or as an association, to put your comments on the record.
  • We are committed to leading the world in occupational safety and health. We are going to train our own personnel and provide education and assistance to employers and employees to accomplish that aim.
  • My personal commitment is to

1.Emphasize cooperation in achieving our goals;

2.Focus OSHA's efforts where our resources are needed most; and

3.Measure our success by the common yardstick of reduced injuries and illnesses to American workers.

  • I look forward to working with you to achieve our mission and yours-sending every worker home whole and healthy at the end of every day.
  • Thank you for inviting me to be with you today.

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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