Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - Table of Contents
• Information Date: 02/03/2010
• Presented To: ORC Worldwide Occupational Safety and Health Group and Corporate Health Directors Network Quarterly Meeting
• Speaker: David Michaels


Remarks Prepared For
DAVID MICHAELS
Assistant Secretary of Labor
For Occupational Safety and Health

ORC Worldwide
Occupational Safety and Health Group
and
Corporate Health Directors Network
Quarterly Meeting

Washington, DC
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Welcome and Thanks

Thanks to Frank White [ORC Senior VP] for inviting me to speak with you.

I'm impressed with the topics that ORC has chosen for this meeting. You're addressing complex issues, including: the relationship of shift work and worker fatigue; the health and safety hazards faced by professional drivers; and the need for effective ways to set goals and measure your progress to abate hazards

I also congratulate all of you who have chosen to attend these presentations and discussions on worker protection. It's good to be among true-believers in workplace safety and health.

I'm here today to tell you about the changes going on in OSHA under this new Administration, but also to ask for your support.

Because you work for employers who excel at workplace safety and health and exceed OSHA's standards already, so much of OSHA's actions over the next year will not have as great an impact on you as on others who are not up to your level of excellence. In fact, through rulemaking and other efforts, OSHA will be asking those employers to do much of what you do already.

When we challenge others to do a better job of protecting their workers, OSHA will need your support.

At the same time, as we move forward on standards, enforcement priorities and other initiatives, we welcome partnership with enlightened business owners, and we seek their cooperation, assistance and comments - even criticism, if it's constructive.

I want to assure you: OSHA will be realistic. We will not propose any standard that isn't backed by strong science; nor will we require practices that haven't been adopted already by hundreds or even thousands of companies - including many of you in this room who take pride in exceeding any conceivable OSHA standard.

OSHA Leadership Update

I arrived at OSHA about two months ago to continue the foundation of progress that Jordan Barab began under the direction of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Secretary Solis has spoken with passion and enthusiasm about ensuring good jobs for every American. I know that all of us in this room agree on this goal.

I'm an epidemiologist, which means I look at data to find patterns that indicate health and safety problems. At OSHA, I will use my experience to abate occupational hazards that threaten the health and safety of working men and women.

I think we all agree that the 5,000 preventable worker deaths recorded in our Nation every year are expensive, disruptive, wasteful, and completely unnecessary. Also preventable are the thousands more who die from occupational disease.

When I talk about saving lives, I don't use the phrase glibly. Every week I sign condolence letters to the next of kin of workers who were killed in events that were entirely preventable.

I also take seriously Secretary Solis' phrase that "There's a new sheriff in town." This is not an abstract wish; it's a description of how OSHA is now working.

We can see this new focus in the egregious citations OSHA recently issued to a chemical waste processing facility in Houston after it killed a worker in a terrible, preventable explosion - this employer's third fatality in less than a year. The proposed fine in this case is almost $1.5 million.

It's unfortunate but true that we need to issue a sizable fine to get the attention of employers ? no one in this room, of course - who do not respect the lives of their employees.

Under this Administration, OSHA is returning to the original intent of the OSH Act. We're a public health regulatory and enforcement agency. Our authority stems directly from the need to prevent events and exposures that maim and kill American workers.

When we talk about business priorities, the question of allocating assets and resources is always central. It's no different at OSHA. We're in the business of protecting working people, and with our own limited resources we are, naturally and necessarily, focusing on writing and enforcing standards.

Budget

On Monday of this week, Secretary Solis announced the proposed FY 2011 budget for the Department of Labor, including the budget for OSHA.

As the President has said, our country is facing serious budget issues, so we have to be careful about how we spend our money.

OSHA's FY 2011 budget calls for $573 million to help OSHA protect 109 million workers nationwide. This is an increase of just $14 million over our current operating budget.

That $14 million includes:

  • $4 million to develop standards
  • $7.7 million for federal enforcement
  • $1.5 million for state-run OSHA programs
  • $1 million for the state-based On-site Consultation Program
  • A quarter of a million dollars for training grants

The budget request calls for OSHA to hire an additional 25 inspectors in 2011 and moving an additional 35 personnel from compliance assistance activities to enforcement.

Specifically, by scaling back our spending on the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and Alliances, OSHA will redirect compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) time previously spent on these compliance-assistance activities to inspections.

Without a doubt, the VPP makes a valuable contribution to workplace safety. Participating companies go above and beyond OSHA requirements, including many with workplace safety and health programs that should serve as a model for the rest of American companies.

However, given the choice of spending our limited resources on either supporting companies that are doing a great job protecting employees, or focusing on employers who willfully disregard workplace safety and allow workers to die in situations that could easily have been prevented — our choice is clear.

The shift in resources and additional hiring called for in next years budget will enable OSHA to conduct more than 3,500 additional inspections in FY 2011.

Next year's budget includes an additional $4 million that will help OSHA develop new standards and expedite rulemaking already in progress.

The new budget also calls for adding $1.5 million in increased funding for state plans operating their own OSHA programs. Until the FY 2010 budget, OSHA's State Plan States had received little or no annual increase to their funds for a decade, not even inflationary adjustments to cover pay-related increases. Next year's increase addresses some of that inequity for the 27 programs that cover nearly half our Nation's workers. This funding will provide State Plans with the resources needed to do an additional 3,000 inspections in FY 2011.

This budget increase also supports OSHA's efforts begun last year to more closely examine the activities of our state plans. After our investigation into problems with the Nevada state-run OSHA program, Federal OSHA moved in to do a thorough review, and we are taking similar steps with our other state-run programs. Federal OSHA doesn't want to take back these programs; we want them to succeed. By working more closely with the states, we are ensuring that they maintain a high quality of service and operate consistently with federal programs.

OSHA is requesting a $1 million increase in its FY2011 budget to fund the state-based On-site Consultation Program. As many of you know, this service offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard worksites.

Working Together

OSHA is now focused on re-energizing proposed standards that have been stuck in the pipeline for years. These include: silica, beryllium, cranes and derricks, a globally harmonized system for chemical labeling, a standard for confined spaces in construction, and electrical power generation in construction — as well as new initiatives such as managing dangerous, combustible dust and ensuring compliance with CDC infectious disease guidelines.

I'd like to discuss four items on the Regulatory Agenda that will affect a lot of employers and workers.

First: OSHA has proposed revising its recordkeeping regulation to restore the column for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD's) on the OSHA 300 Log that employers use to record workplace injuries and illnesses. The proposed rule would require employers to check the MSD column if the case is recordable under the regulation's general requirements and the case meets the definition of an MSD. It appears from press reports that our announcement of this effort may have confused some observers. So, let me be clear: This is not a prelude to a broader ergonomics standard. OSHA is simply restoring the musculoskeletal disorders column to the OSHA 300 log as the recordkeeping standard, issued in 2001, originally intended.

MSD's continue to be a major problem for American workers. They're real and they're hurting a lot of people. OSHA believes that putting the MSD column back on the log will improve the Nation's occupational injury and illness statistics as well as provide useful information that workers and employers can use to better identify musculoskeletal disorders in their workplaces. However, at this time, OSHA has no plans for regulatory activity.

Second: OSHA is revising its Hazard Communication Standard to make it consistent with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The new standard will include more specific requirements for hazard classification as well as standardized labels to provide consistent information on hazardous chemicals. It will also provide a standard approach to convey information on material safety data sheets with extremely minimal cost to any business, small or large. OSHA will hold hearings in March and April 2010.

Third: OSHA is expediting efforts to update existing permissible exposure limits and make other provisions to protect workers from silica dust, which has been shown to cause lung disease, silicosis and lung cancer. We are working to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in July 2010.

Fourth: OSHA is moving forward to protect workers from the hazards of combustible dust fire and explosion. The agency held stakeholder meetings on the future standard in December and we welcome more comments at meetings that we will hold in Atlanta on February 17 and in other cities, including Chicago, in the coming weeks. As we firm up details, we'll announce the dates and locations soon.

Enforcement

Under this new Administration, we've stepped up enforcement of occupational safety and health standards. In the last fiscal year we filed four egregious cases; in the last quarter, we initiated seven.

We also issued the highest fine in OSHA history when we issued $87.4 million in proposed penalties to BP for failing to correct hazards that continue to threaten workers' health and safety.

Make no mistake: In addition to sending a message to these companies that we will not tolerate neglect of worker safety and health, we also want all employers to hear that OSHA will react swiftly and strongly when workers are put at risk.

Importance of Accurate Data Reporting

To support our enforcement efforts, OSHA is moving toward improving how workplace injuries and illnesses are reported. The Agency needs accurate data to effectively target its inspections and resources, and to measure the impact of OSHA's actions on workplace safety.

In October 2009 we initiated a major National Emphasis Program to ensure that workplace injuries and illnesses are accurately reported. This NEP will also focus on identifying programs that may discourage workers from reporting. We were very concerned about recent studies, Congressional hearings and a GAO report that not only documented serious underreporting, but also significant disincentives for workers and employers to report accurately.

We will enforce our requirements and increase our efforts to ensure that workers and employers understand how important accurate data is to workplace safety and health.

OSHA is also moving toward modernizing its data gathering and reporting system, including electronic submission of injury and illness reports. Our planning is at the early conceptual stage, but this is the direction the White House wants to see us move. Therefore, we'll be working out specifics in the coming weeks and will have more to say soon. I want to thank Frank White and Steve Newell for their participation and assistance at a meeting of data collection experts that we held last week.

As we move forward on this important issue, I hope you'll continue to work closely with us, helping us improve OSHA's ability, and the ability of employers and workers, to understand and prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

New Frontiers

Taking a longer view, OSHA will look for ways to streamline the lengthy rulemaking process. Some standards have taken more than a decade to establish, and that's not an acceptable response when workers are in danger.

OSHA will also be looking carefully at worker safety and health issues related to green jobs. Green jobs promise to be kinder to our environment and transform our economy, but they're not necessarily safer for American workers. Many of these new jobs pose old occupational hazards.

For example, building and placing modern wind turbines still expose workers to the same hazards faced by traditional welders and tower erectors. On the other hand, some new, energy-efficient products expose workers to new, hazardous substances.

So, from the bottom up, we must integrate worker safety and health into green manufacturing, green construction and green energy. Employers who rush into the green economy without paying attention to worker safety and health will blunder into many preventable injuries and deaths. I'm making it my mission and OSHA's mission to ensure this doesn't happen. Green jobs will not be good jobs unless they are safe jobs.

As we move forward on these and other workplace safety and health challenges, OSHA will need allies in the business community who, instead of instantly rejecting every new OSHA initiative, will work constructively with us and with America's labor unions — because we know that working together is the best way to achieve what we all want: safe workplaces for our Nation's workers.

Compliance Assistance

I want to talk for just a moment about "compliance assistance." OSHA's renewed focus on standards and enforcement will not diminish our efforts to provide resources for worker training and training grants, or fact sheets, guidance documents and online learning tools. These are all good, and OSHA will continue to make these compliance assistance products available.

To put things in perspective, however, I see compliance assistance as a critical support — and not a replacement — for our enforcement and standards activities. Still, I want you to know that I'm committed to finding ways to get more of these resources into the hands of more business owners and workers. I want to be sure that they have all the tools they need to effectively and affordably practice prevention and keep everyone safe and healthy on the job.

Last year, nearly 32,000 employers took advantage of one of our most popular compliance assistance products, the On-site Consultation Program, and 97 percent of these were small businesses that employed fewer than 250 workers. As I've noted, there's more money in the budget next year to support this program and outreach to small businesses.

There's room for improvement. To do a better job of helping protect immigrant and other hard-to-reach workers, it's vital that we produce understandable and accessible materials. Many immigrant workers are not only limited in their understanding of English which is a second language for them; in many cases they have low literacy in their own language. We're working on ways to make these workers aware of their rights and to inform them about workplace safety and health issues to protect them from hazards. We welcome your ideas and assistance.

Toward this end, we are convening a National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety on April 14 and15 in Houston, Texas. OSHA is co-sponsoring the event with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, in partnership with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The summit will bring together workers and representatives from across public and private sectors. Construction is the primary industry targeted by the conference, although we will also focus on other high-risk industries that employ large numbers of Latino workers.

The summit will provide a lot of useful information, including sessions on free services for small employers and effective educational materials and programs to inform Latino workers about workplace safety and health hazards. If any of you have best practices and success stories that can other businesses could use to reach these workers, I strongly urge you to attend and share your ideas.

The Secretary of Labor called for this summit and she will be on hand to open the meeting. OSHA's Home Page offers a link to information and registration.

Challenge

I want to once again thank Frank White for his leadership and support of workplace safety and health. I'm grateful for your input, which is helping OSHA find new and better ways to eliminate thousands of unnecessary and preventable illness, injuries, and deaths in workplaces all across America.

I want to invite businesses to support OSHA's efforts to protect workers by being more engaged in the rulemaking process. You know how complex a safety and health standard can be, and we want your thoughts to help us get these standards right.

Don't let the nay-sayers dominate the discussion. Most of you go above and beyond OSHA's standards and have instituted comprehensive safety and health management programs, and many of you have implemented ergonomics programs and other strategies to keep your workers healthy and safe. You have successful track records to prove that these strategies work. Share your expertise with us.

I am committed to listening to our stakeholders, which is why OSHA will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, February 10, which we are calling "OSHA Listens." At this meeting, we'll welcome suggestions about how we can be most effective in reducing workplace injury and illness. As of this morning, our speaking list is about full, so we can't invite more people to speak. However, we have an open docket, so you're welcome to send in your comments. There's more information on the meeting at OSHA's Web page.

Also on OSHA's Web pages you'll find more information on how OSHA functions, including budget information and statistical information on inspections and illness and injury reports. This is part of President Obama's policy on open government. If there is other information that you want to see posted on our Web pages, let us know. We're listening.

Now, are there any questions?




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