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Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 05/14/1998
• Presented To: The Conference Board
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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
The Conference Board
Environmental, Health and Safety
Officers' Councils I and II
Washington, D.C.
May 14, 1998

  • Has Chicken Little re-hatched? Or is the sky really falling?
  • Chicken Little, you remember, was bonked by an earthbound acorn and concluded the sky was falling. He convinced his barnyard buddies that doom was imminent. And they all headed off to find the king to report the potential collapse of the universe.
  • Today some people are looking for a king to report the Year 2000 crisis to. Unfortunately, there's no central computer guru holding a master fix. Therein lies the problem.
  • Year 2000, as most of you know, is the technocrat's shorthand for the failure of computer systems because of an inability to recognize that the year 2000 follows the year 1999. ( I have finally found one way that I am smarter than a computer!)
  • Writing a few weeks ago in the Wall St. Journal as a self-proclaimed Year 2000 alarmist, Edward Yardeni, chief economist and managing director of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, sounded an international fire alarm.
  • He urged preparation for "the possible collapse of essential U.S. government services, including tax collection, welfare payments, national defense and air traffic control." Obviously he fears the failure of civilization as we know it.
  • I hope his dire predictions prove as unrealistic as Chicken Little's concerns. But as a former Boy Scout, I think "Be prepared" is a good motto.
  • Mr. Yardeni's primary worry is money -- the profits that could be siphoned off to fix the problem, the lost productivity when machines fail and minds must take over, and the costs of responding to a host of other unexpected glitches and unpredictable foul-ups.
  • My concern, of course, is worker safety. What happens when the fire alarms don't work -- or multiple false alarms sound? What happens when the automatic doors don't open or the valves malfunction? What happens if there's a chemical spill and the MSDS's are locked in computer limbo?
  • These are realistic questions because computers control so many of our safety systems. And now is the time to find out the answers. As I'm speaking we have 14,317 hours until the Year 2000 bell tolls.
  • I'm sure that most of your corporations are well along in the testing process. Let me just urge you to be certain that your concerns and mine­health and safety­are addressed.
  • This forum offers an excellent opportunity to share your efforts and identify mutual areas of struggle. That can be a real help as we work through these difficulties together.
  • I really appreciate the openness of Phillips Petroleum in alerting others to potential problems. Business Week reported recently that Phillips experienced a shutdown in a hydrogen sulfide monitor system when the company ran a Year 2000 test on one of its oil and gas production platforms. The failure essentially immobilized the platform. And Phillips has done us all a service by relating this experience. We need to take advantage of it by searching for similar hidden computer chips in other safety systems. Then test them NOW while there's still 425 working days to go before the millennial moment of truth.
  • Year 2000 is a national issue, but it is also a global one. And it requires worldwide cooperation to resolve, as do other issues.
  • OSHA is interested in working with other nations on a variety of safety and health concerns. Hazard communication, for example.
  • We must assure that our workers understand the hazards posed by the chemicals they work with. At the same time, we don't want to inhibit trade by throwing up unnecessary barriers. So we need to harmonize our efforts with those of other nations.
  • The concept is simple: eliminate or reduce differences in regulatory approaches to facilitate trade­and preserve worker protections. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complex. And the process takes a long time.
  • We've been working with other nations for several years to develop harmonized criteria for defining hazards, as well as harmonizing labels and material safety data sheets. Hazard classification criteria in individual national systems are often similar. But they diverge enough to create a patchwork of conflicting laws­within our own country as well as abroad. Thus the same chemical may need different labels and data sheets depending on where in the world it is being shipped. This is a barrier to trade­particularly for small businesses that don't have the resources to deal with the differing requirements.
  • At the same time, OSHA's foremost concern is worker protection. The U.S. is a major importer as well as exporter of chemicals. We want those chemicals we import to be accompanied by sufficient information to protect workers.
  • Achieving harmonization has been difficult. While the goal is laudable, there's a natural resistance to change and a desire to maintain the status quo­even within industries that stand to benefit from elimination of trade barriers. Cultural differences, which are not always obvious, increase the challenge.
  • We've been encouraged by some to consider harmonizing permissible exposure limits. But that may be tough to do. What's an acceptable risk? How should we analyze risks to set limits? What changes would have to be made in individual statutes to accommodate international requirements? It's far easier to share information than to come to agreement on PELs.
  • OSHA has also been involved in negotiating and implementing a Mutual Recognition Agreement with the European Union in the area of electrical safety. This is related to our Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) program, which recognizes laboratories to perform testing and certification of products used in the workplace to ensure they can be used safely. The agreement is going to be signed by President Clinton and the EU on May 18 at an economic summit in London. European labs interested in U.S. recognition can then submit their applications. They will still have to meet the requirements of OSHA's current laboratory recognition program.
  • Interestingly, OSHA considered the issue of foreign labs applying for recognition long before the advent of the upcoming agreement. Our regulation allows them to be recognized as long as their own country provides for similar recognition for American labs. Canadian labs have been recognized under this reciprocity provision.
  • We are also planning a tripartite occupational safety and health conference with the European Union in mid-October in Luxembourg. We're expecting about 100 delegates from government, industry, labor and academia. Our goals are to develop a global computer network to make safety and health information available; to share information on risk assessment practices; to discuss regulations on silica and silicates including asbestos and guidelines for workplace safety and health programs; and to share best practices for compliance and enforcement.
  • OSHA is committed to leading the world in occupational safety and health. We've made significant progress here in the U.S. Since the agency was created 27 years ago, workplace fatalities have been cut in half. Occupational injury and illness rates have been declining for the past five years, dropping in 1996 to the lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting this information.
  • But we need to press on. When nearly 50 American workers are injured every minute during a 40-hour workweek and almost 17 die each day, we know we need to do even better. We have developed a strategy for boosting our performance­a five-year strategic plan. That is the blueprint I have pledged to follow as Assistant Secretary of Labor.
  • For the first time our plan focuses right where your safety and health programs do­directly on the bottom line -- preventing injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace. Counting activities becomes a secondary, not a primary, measure. Yes, we'll still take note of how many inspections we do, how many consultations employers receive and how many standards we issue.
  • And we will still emphasize inspections, with significant penalties for major violations. But we will evaluate our progress by the same measuring stick employers and employees use -- injuries and illnesses. Because we want to see tangible results.

  • And the results that matter are fewer injuries and illnesses in the workplace. To be exact, we've set a goal of helping employers in 100,000 workplaces 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 industries­food processing, nursing homes, shipyards, logging and construction. And we're seeking a 15-percent reduction in three specific injuries and illnesses­silicosis, amputations and lead poisoning.
  • One of the ways we had hoped to achieve our overall goal is through our new Cooperative Compliance Program, or CCP for short. CCP would offer a reduced chance of inspection to employers with high injury and illness rates in exchange for establishing or improving a safety and health program for workers.
  • Unfortunately, that program is currently on hold as the result of a judicial stay. The challenge to CCP brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce probably will not be resolved until early next year. So, we've moved to plan B.
  • A month ago, we launched our interim inspection targeting system. We've begun comprehensive inspections at more than 300 workplaces across the country under this program.
  • The initial inspection pool includes about 3,300 companies in 99 industries with lost workday injury and illness rates higher than 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 we have worksite-specific data gathered from 80,000 employers who sent us their injury and illness data last year. That helps us pinpoint individual employers that need our help. But we've been forced to take a step back on the promise of partnership and the opportunity to multiply our impact that CCP offered.
  • We hoped to reach 12,000+ employers through CCP. And, in fact, more than 10,000 signed up to partner with us. The interim plan will limit us to the 3,300 workplaces we can inspect. But let me reassure you, despite this setback, we haven't given up on CCP. We expect to be vindicated in court.
  • As all of you know, safety and health programs truly represent the difference between low injury and illness rates and high rates. Safety and health programs more than pay for themselves through lower workers' compensation, medical, disability and rehabilitation costs. They also cut hidden costs such as legal expenses and overtime as well as worker turnover.
  • Preventing worker injuries and illnesses also enhances employee morale and reduces absenteeism and unnecessary downtime. Safety and health is clearly a plus for the bottom line. Some studies estimate that employers can save $4 to $6 in costs for every $1 they spend on workplace safety and health. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but there are still some in the business community who need convincing.
  • That's why in everything OSHA does, we will be emphasizing safety and health programs. We want to see a permanent culture change among all companies in the U.S., not just the multi-nationals, so that safety and health programs become part and parcel of the work environment. Our goal is to encourage 50 percent of the employers we visit for inspections, and states see for consultations, to implement or improve their safety and health programs.
  • On the regulatory front, we are developing a safety and health program proposal. That is one of my top 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 safety and health program proposal will incorporate five key elements: management leadership; employee participation; hazard assessment; hazard prevention and control; and information and training. And it will be flexible.
  • We want it to accommodate the extensive programs that your companies have as well as the Mom and Pop shop on Main Street. We hope to have our proposal out for comment later this year.
  • As you know, we're also looking at ergonomics. Musculoskeletal disorders declined slightly from 1995 to 1996. But they continue to represent a serious workplace problem, costing our economy billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs.
  • I believe we can develop an OSHA standard to address work-related MSDs that is based on sound ergonomic principles and focused on serious problems for which effective solutions are known. We can reduce pain and disability in the workplace.
  • 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, limiting coverage to those operations, jobs and tasks where there are high rates of work-related MSDs. We will also zero in on situations where successful solutions have been identified.
  • We held a series of stakeholder meetings here in Washington in early February to share our preliminary thinking with business, labor and those in the safety and health field. Some of you may have been involved. Notes from those meetings have been posted on our ergonomics web page. Our next step is to complete our draft regulatory text and share that with stakeholders next month.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Safety and health in the workplace is not merely the job of a federal agency and its state counterparts. That would be impossible. Safety and health calls for leadership from environmental safety and health officers like yourselves. And within a company it calls for whole-hearted participation from everyone­from the stock clerk to the CEO. Injury and illness prevention is not just a program. Like any other quality management system, it must become a way of life. If it is not a cornerstone of corporate culture, it will surely become a stumbling block.
  • OSHA intends to foster the commitment to quality that results in fewer workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. And we will not be deterred by setbacks or stumbling blocks. 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 next millennium by viewing them as opportunities rather than obstacles. And we look forward to working with you as partners in achieving our mission and yours­sending 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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