Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 05/12/1998
• Presented To: American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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
American Industrial Hygiene
Conference & Exposition
"Anticipating Challenges -- Action
Through Partnership"
Atlanta, Georgia
May 12, 1998

  • As we look ahead, one thing is certain: the future is inherently unknowable and all too often unpredictable. In the midst of uncertainty, we need some assurance that we are headed in the right direction. We all need partners who share our vision, our goals and our aspirations.
  • You know, I'm an optimist. I think one has to be an optimist to serve as the head of OSHA. The difference between a pessimist and an optimist is pretty simple. A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist, the opportunity in every difficulty.
  • Your job as industrial hygienists is to overcome difficulties. You have the opportunity to preserve and improve health for workers and to build profits for employers in the process. You earn your living by solving problems, by turning difficulties into opportunities. OSHA benefits daily by drawing on your experience, your creativity and your optimism.
  • Woodrow Wilson once said, "I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow." I couldn't agree more. I hope you will continue to share the incredible brain power and ingenuity represented here today with us as we move forward into the 21st Century.
  • Actually, many of you are part of us. OSHA has at least two dozen presenters here this week and many others who are members of AIHA and attending the conference. Ruth McCully, your vice chair-elect of ACGIH, heads our IT effort and serves on my top management team. And Mary Carol Lewis, former president of the Carolinas local section and a long-time AIHA member, has recently joined us in Washington as my chief of staff. Both are here today, as are the OSHA regional administrations from Atlanta -- Davis Layne, Chicago -- Mike Connors and Kansas City -- Chuck Adkins.
  • Those of us who work for OSHA must cultivate partnership. That's because we face an impossible task. OSHA covers more than 100 million workers at 6 million sites. With a little more than 1,000 inspectors, we can't be everywhere. So what we lack in personnel we must make up for in resourcefulness. We must find innovative ways to serve as catalysts for improving safety and health in the workplace. And we must tap the imagination and persuasive powers of others-like yourselves-who share with us the mission of preserving worker health.
  • Through the vision of the Clinton Administration, OSHA has embraced the idea that we must change ourselves. We know we need to operate differently to make a greater impact on workplace safety and health. President Clinton shared his concept for a New OSHA three years ago, and Joe Dear shared that concept with you. And we have been putting those ideas into practice.
  • We now have a specific plan to focus our efforts-a five year strategic plan to reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace. I am committed to following that blueprint as my management plan for OSHA.
  • I am enthusiastic about OSHA's plan because we have zeroed in 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. We will still emphasize inspections and significant cases, but what really matters is results.
  • And the results we're looking for are fewer injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Everything we do is pointed toward that overarching and underlying objective. Our plan sets three broad goals, all designed to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths on the job.
  • These goals are to:

    • Improve workplace safety and health for all workers as evidenced by fewer hazards, reduced exposures, and fewer injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.
    • Change workplace culture to increase employer awareness of, commitment to, and involvement in safety and health, and
    • Secure public confidence through excellence in the development and delivery of OSHA's programs and services.

  • To reach these goals by 2002, we've planned a full-court press on workplace injuries and illnesses. We will help employers in 100,000 workplaces where we initiate a major intervention to reduce their injury and illness rates by 20 percent over the next five years. We're also striving for a 15-percent reduction in injuries and illnesses among five high hazard industries-food processing, nursing homes, shipyards, logging and construction. And we're seeking a 15-percent reduction in three specific injuries and illnesses-silicosis, amputations and lead poisoning.
  • Perhaps even more important than the specific injury and illness targets is our goal of a permanent culture change. We need to make safety and health programs part and parcel of the work environment in America. And to reach that ideal, we need your help. When together we change America's work culture, we know we can prevent injuries and illnesses not just for a short period after an OSHA inspection, but on into the future. Safety and health programs keep a good thing going.
  • But we've recently been handed a setback. As most of you know, a critical component of our efforts to reduce injuries and illnesses is our new Cooperative Compliance Program. This is OSHA's own strategy to build partnership with employers who most need our intervention -- an innovative approach to safety and health intended to leverage our resources.
  • Unfortunately, CCP is on hold right now as the result of a judicial stay. The challenge to CCP brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will probably not be resolved until early next year. So, we've moved to Plan B.
  • A month ago, we launched our alternative inspection targeting system. To date, we have begun more than 300 comprehensive inspections at companies across the country under this program. The initial inspection pool includes about 3,300 companies in 99 high hazard industries with lost workday injury and illness rates higher than the average for their specific industry.
  • So, for the moment, OSHA is headed back to the future. We now have a ground-breaking, old-fashioned inspection program in place. It's a step forward and a step back at the same time.
  • We're moving forward because now that we have worksite-specific data, we can zero in on those individual employers with the highest injury and illness rates for their industries. But, because of the lawsuit, we've been forced to take a step back on the promise of partnership and the opportunity to multiply our impact that CCP offered.
  • I'll be frank. This approach is second-best. But it's a necessary step. We must protect worker safety and health while we defend CCP -- our common-sense partnership strategy -- in court.
  • Let me explain why I've been so excited about CCP, and why we're determined to put it in place once we're vindicated in court.
  • Through CCP, OSHA can direct help to the companies that need it the most-companies with high rates of injuries and illnesses. We can reach three times as many worksites through partnership as we could through traditional enforcement. That makes CCP a triple win.
  • 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 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 specific employers really needed our help.
  • OSHA's data initiative changed all that. Last year, we surveyed 80,000 employers in manufacturing and 14 additional high hazard industries. We identified 12,000 specific worksites in 400 four-digit SIC codes that had experienced at least twice the average rate of injuries and illnesses.
  • Through CCP, we said to employers at those sites, "You're on our list. We plan to inspect everyone on our list. However, for those employers who promise to implement or improve their safety and health program, we'll put you on a secondary list with only a 30 percent chance of inspection."
  • Employers recognized it as a good deal, and more than 10,000 signed up. Further, CCP has enjoyed bipartisan support on the Hill. When I testified in late February before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, a Republican congressman indicated his support for the program and told me, "...perhaps I'm missing something...I find it rather strange that when you are doing exactly what everybody says they want you to do, you're being challenged in court by one of the people who I think would benefit from it."
  • The CCP issue has been much more contentious than I ever imagined it could be. But we haven't given up. And we expect CCP to be affirmed by the court.
  • Despite the setback, I have been especially encouraged by the response of prospective participants when we contacted them to tell them that we were unable to fulfill our promise of partnership at this time. A number who recognized the advantages of partnering with OSHA have expressed their disappointment. Quite a few have indicated they would continue with their commitment to improve their safety and health programs -- even though OSHA was forced to withdraw its offer of partnership.
  • They won't be sorry. Hundreds of employers with similar high injury and illness rates set up safety and health programs under our partnership pilot projects. They racked up some incredible results.
  • A pre-stressed concrete manufacturer with 10 sites in Wisconsin and Illinois reduced injuries by more than 50 percent the first year and cut its workers' compensation costs by 75 percent over 21 months.
  • A footwear manufacturer in the same program saved $516 per employee in workers compensation costs when the company cut its lost work day injury rate by nearly 65 percent.
  • A manufacturer participating in Dakota First cut workers' compensation premiums by nearly $130,000 -- in only one year following adoption of its safety program.
  • A manufactured housing employer with 17 sites nationwide reduced lost workdays by 60 percent, their compensation costs by 70 percent, while at the same time increasing production by 40 percent!
  • In developing CCP our intent was to multiply our impact through partnership. Once we're allowed to move forward with these administrative changes, we believe they will result in significant benefits-for workers, employers and taxpayers.
  • CCP was and still is our best effort for changing OSHA. Others have focused on change through legislative reform. Some of the ideas put forward have been good ones. We recently supported two of Congressman Cass Ballenger's bills. One wrote OSHA's consultation program into law. The other prohibits OSHA from using inspection or citation quotas to measure its compliance officers. Those two bills make sense. Through the consultation program, small companies get the help they need to set up safety and health programs. And no one should get a citation or penalty to fill a compliance officer's quota. These bills essentially codify current OSHA practice.
  • I believe we could make additional changes in the Act that would bolster protection for employees. We could cover public employees-federal, state and local-in all states, not just the 23 that run their own OSHA programs. We could strengthen whistleblower protection for employees who report safety and health problems. We could increase criminal penalties-from a misdemeanor to a felony-for employers whose willful conduct causes the death of an employee.
  • At the same time, there are other ideas floating around that would be much more difficult for me to support-at least in their present form. Hippocrates, who wrote the physician's oath, once said, "As to diseases, make a habit of two things-to help, or at least, to do no harm." I think we need to bear that in mind as we examine other OSHA reform and regulatory reform proposals.
  • A number of changes that have been proposed don't meet that test. I don't think we need a separate peer review process for OSHA standards, for example. That would further delay development of OSHA standards. Our current extensive public comment process provides an open, above-board forum for a free exchange among all parties on the issues. It's proven effective in giving everyone a chance to have their say and quiz others in the process.
  • A second proposal that gives me pause is the idea of denying OSHA access to company self-audits. I am open to discussing some boundaries in this area. We encourage companies to review safety and health at their site-and then correct any hazards. But as an investigator, I need to have access to all the information available. Especially when an accident occurs, I want to find out all I can about what happened and why it happened. That's the only way to identify how such problems can be prevented in the future. Legislation that would permit employers to withhold this information will serve primarily to shield bad actors. Where companies have taken steps to implement sensible recommendations for fixing problems, OSHA is able to give them credit for good faith, significantly reducing penalties.
  • I am also concerned about a proposal to promote third party consultations tied to OSHA's enforcement process. While well-intentioned, this proposal would not extend OSHA's resources. Rather it would separate the "haves" from the "have-nots." Large corporations could avoid OSHA penalties by contacting consultants every two years. OSHA would be barred from examining consultants' reports so inspectors couldn't determine whether employers actually made any improvements. So the small employer, who couldn't afford a consultant, would be subject to OSHA penalties, but the well-financed corporation gets a foolproof escape clause. That's not fair. That's not good public policy.
  • I think there is a very important role for private safety and health consultants. Consultants can play a vital part in encouraging companies to establish safety and health programs. However, I see this service as a training and outreach effort rather than a substitute for enforcement. Consultants who foster development and improvement of safety and health programs have a unique opportunity to partner with OSHA. And we welcome their efforts.
  • That is because safety and health programs are the key to everything we're doing. And our goal is to encourage at least half the employers we visit to implement or improve their safety and health programs. In fact, OSHA will be trying to persuade every employer that we contact to adopt a safety and health program. We would be delighted with your help you to persuade additional companies to take this step.
  • On that note, there's one area that particularly deserves our attention as we close down the 20th Century. Let me mention an important safety and health program concern you may not have addressed-Y2K. As businesses gear up to solve their Year 2000 computer problems, you need to keep safety and health systems in mind as well. Computer chips with timing and reporting capabilities that are embedded in technical systems can fail just as those powering mainframes and PC's can. Business Week reported recently that Phillips Petroleum experienced a shutdown in a hydrogen sulfide monitor system when the company ran a Y2K test on one of its oil and gas production platforms. Whoever would have thought that a chemical monitoring system might fail because of a Y2K problem? Like Phillips, you need to check for potential Y2K problems in your safety and health monitoring systems as well.
  • On the regulatory front, we are developing a safety and health program standard. That is one of my top standard-setting priorities. Before I leave office, I want an effective safety and health program to become a fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country.
  • Our proposed safety and health program standard will incorporate five key elements: management leadership; employee participation; hazard assessment; hazard prevention and control; and information and training. And it will be flexible, with appropriate expectations for companies of different sizes in different industries. We hope to have a proposal out for comment later this year.
  • I look forward to hearing your thoughts and recommendations on this proposal. Your partnership in this process is critical. Give us the benefit of your knowledge and your extensive experience to develop the best possible standard.
  • Another top priority for me is our commitment to develop an ergonomics standard. 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.
  • More than one of every five illnesses and lost-time injuries in 1996 resulted from repetitive motion or overexertion. Because these injuries often keep workers off the job longer, they represent a very serious problem. The financial cost is staggering-billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs.
  • As you know, Congress has prohibited us from issuing a proposal before October 1, 1998. However, we can research 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 can be devised.
  • We're planning a focused standard under the umbrella of general industry. And, in this first phase, we're going to draw the lines narrowly.
  • Our economists are poring over the injury and illness data to pinpoint the specific occupations and job processes where there are high rates of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. But high rates aren't the whole story. In addition to high rates, we will narrow our focus to processes where successful solutions have been demonstrated. Rather than a broad standard covering everyone, we will begin by addressing only those situations with demonstrated risks and demonstrated solutions.
  • We held a series of stakeholder meetings in Washington in early February to share our preliminary thinking with business, labor and those in the safety and health field. Notes from those meetings have been posted on our ergonomics web page. And we plan to share a draft proposal with stakeholders next month, with meetings outside of Washington.
  • Our aim in this effort is to give employers the tools to solve the ergonomic problems they face. We don't need a prescriptive standard, but a descriptive one. We'll be offering employers a flexible framework, not a fixed formula.
  • We know American employers and their workers already have demonstrated ingenuity because they've shared their solutions to ergonomic problems with us at our national and regional effective practices conferences.
  • For instance, Red Wing Shoes in Minnesota modified work stations and gave its employees adjustable chairs. Even though the company added two new plants, workers' comp costs dropped 75 percent over four years.
  • Fieldcrest-Cannon in Columbus, Georgia, cut MSD's from 121 in 1993 to 21 in 1996. They credit their success to worker involvement in designing systems to limit the need for workers to bend and reach.
  • In North Carolina, Perdue Farms started an ergonomics program in 1991. It was so effective, the company expanded it to all its plants nationwide. Although the average LWDII for poultry process is about 12, six Perdue plants had no lost time injuries in 1996.
  • Woodpro Cabinetry in Cabool, Missouri, saved $42,000 in workers compensation costs by bringing its injury rates down when it changed conveyor levels to reduce worker reaching and added additional conveyors to limit lifting. This is a significant amount for a company with about 100 workers.
  • These are just a few examples, and many involved solutions that cost very little. In fact, in one study, nearly half the recommended ergonomic controls cost less than $500 each; and one-fourth cost less than $100. We are talking about small investments in the workplace with large potential benefits to workers and employers.
  • I can tell you at this point that we expect the ergonomics proposal to include a few basic elements: management commitment and employee participation, training, job hazard analysis, hazard prevention and control, medical management and program evaluation. And I can also assure you that employers will have a lot of latitude in determining what is appropriate for each element in line with the specific situation in their workplaces.
  • In addition to developing a standard, we are continuing our outreach and education efforts through the regional effective practices conferences. I encourage you to participate in the upcoming sessions-another opportunity for you to share your practical knowledge with us and with your fellow safety and health practitioners.
  • We are also continuing inspections. We have cited employers under OSHA's general duty clause for about 10 years for failure to protect workers against musculoskeletal disorders in industries where ergonomic risks represent a clearly recognized hazard.
  • In the past 18 months, we've opened 142 inspections involving ergonomics. More than 60 percent have resulted in letters outlining recommendations rather than citations proposing penalties. About 25 percent of the cases are still open.
  • Of course, we have others issues on our plate as well. Who pays for personal protective equipment? Well, unless it's truly a personal item-like shoes-then we think it's clear the employer should pay. And we're working on an amendment to our PPE standard to specify that.
  • We're continuing our work on revisiting PELs. As you know, we've identified about 20 substances to begin with. Work continues on our indoor air quality standard even as we follow daily developments in our nation's effort to resolve issues surrounding smoking and the tobacco industry.
  • OSHA is committed to leading the world in occupational safety and health. Even though our task appears to be impossible, we have no intention of giving up, no intention of slacking off.
  • We've set our sights on reducing workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. And OSHA will not be deterred by roadblocks or setbacks. As Henry Ford once said, "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal."
  • We have no intention of taking our eyes off the goal. We intend to meet the challenges of the 21st Century by viewing them as opportunities rather than obstacles. And we look forward to working with you as partners in achieving our mission and yours-sending every worker home whole and healthy at the end of every day.

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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