Charles N. Jeffress
Assistant Secretary of Labor for
Occupational Safety and Health
Associated General Contractors
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.