Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 07/20/1998
• Presented To: Food Distributors International/National Grocers Association
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

"This document was published prior to the publication of OSHA's final rule on Ergonomics Program (29 CFR 1910.900, November 14, 2000), and therefore does not necessarily address or reflect the provisions set forth in the final standard."


Charles N. Jeffress
Regulatory Impact Conference
Food Distributors International/
National Grocers Association
July 20, 1998

  • Politicians kiss babies. Songwriters idolize Mom. And everyone takes a second helping of Grandma's apple pie. Why?

  • Because everyone loves babies, Mom and apple pie. They're traditional American icons. They represent common ground -- shared values, fond memories and positive images.

  • It always makes more sense to search for common ground than pick a battleground. And that's why I wanted to come talk with you today. Because I believe we have some common ground, and I think it's time we found it. I want to build an ongoing, mutually respectful relationship with you in the food distribution and retail grocery business.

  • In the process of identifying common ground, we must address difficult issues. We need to deal with tough topics openly and honestly in good faith. Perhaps we'll find more common ground there than we think.

  • So...let's talk about ergonomics. Can we find room for agreement here? You may be surprised.

  • Why is ergonomics such a hot topic? Fitting the job to the worker seems like basic common sense. But we have a long way to go in meeting that simple objective.

  • I know that many of you have addressed ergonomics in your warehouses and stores....But as a country, we still have a ways to go.

  • Many other nations are ahead of us in establishing standards to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders -- European countries like Germany, Finland and Britain. Latin American nations like Brazil, Guatemala and Ecuador. African countries like Egypt, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. Japan, Australia and New Zealand also have standards. In fact, just about all industrialized nations, except the U.S. have addressed ergonomics.

  • There are not many fields of industrial endeavor where we fall behind Guatemala, Ecuador, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. And we won't be behind long. I expect OSHA to propose an ergonomics standard next summer.

  • The good new for us is that the total number of musculoskeletal disorders has declined slightly over the last couple of years. The bad news is that MSDs still account for about one-third of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses in the U.S.

  • And that is costly. In 1996, more than 600,000 American workers experienced injuries due to overexertion or repetitive motion on the job. Workers' comp for these workers cost their employers about $20 billion, and indirect costs added billions more. For a worker who experiences carpal tunnel syndrome, it means an average of 25 days off the job.

  • When we look at overall workplace injuries by occupation, some of your employees fall into the top categories. And MSDs are part of that risk. Did you know that truck drivers have the highest injury rates? Cashiers rank number nine. And cashiers who operate scanners are at much higher risk than other cashiers.

  • Ergonomics is not an exact science. Many of you have made that point, and I agree. Although we know that repeated motion is a risk factor for MSDs, we can't predict that X number of repetitions will produce an injury. That's a little like asking how many cigarettes someone must smoke before they get lung cancer.

  • We also know that multiple risk factors such as awkward postures and heavy force add to the risk, increasing the likelihood of injury. The corollary is that reducing these risk factors leads to fewer work-related MSDs. It doesn't have to be an exact science for you and me to know some things we can do to prevent ergonomic injuries.

  • In fact, most work-related MSDs can be prevented by a sound ergonomics program. Workers avoid pain and disability, and employers save money and increase productivity.

  • A recent General Accounting Office report analyzing five companies found that ergonomics programs led to reductions in overall injuries and illnesses as well as in the number of days that injured employees were out of work. All five worksites cut workers' compensation costs after establishing ergonomics programs, and they reported improved worker morale, productivity, and product quality.

  • Many companies have proven that effective ergonomics programs pay off. For example:

    • OshKosh B'Gosh redesigned workstations and cut workers' comp costs by one-third -- down by $2.7 million.

    • San Francisco General Hospital reduced back injuries among its health care workers by 94% saving $135,000 per year.

    • Sara Lee modified line speeds and material handling equipment and procedures, saving $750,000 in workers' comp costs and reducing workdays lost to carpal tunnel syndrome from 731 days to 8 days.

  • Companies in the grocery business have also succeeded. Take Food Markets Northwest in Seattle. This grocery implemented an ergonomics program in 1987 after three cashiers experienced MSDs. They modified their checkstands for about $500 each. They moved the scales, raised the keyboards, made grocery bag wells adjustable and added fatigue mats. An ergonomist met with cashiers to discuss the changes. The result -- a 43 percent decline in their workers' comp experience rating. And over the past 10 years they have had only four tendinitis cases.

  • We've been saying for some time that OSHA plans to propose a program-based ergonomics standard, based on sound ergonomic principles and focused on serious problems for which effective solutions can be devised. We've met with stakeholders a number of times to discuss this approach.

  • This week OSHA's ergonomics team will be meeting again with employers, employees, unions, academics, trade association representatives and others in Kansas City and Atlanta. Before regulatory language is ever written, we're seeking input on the tough issues:

    1. What should all employers covered by the scope of the standard do to protect their employees from MSDs?

    2. What action levels should be used to trigger further employer action?

    3. How do employers with effective programs determine when controls are adequate for a problem job?

    4. Should OSHA limit the scope of a proposed ergonomics program standard?

  • If you would like to weigh in on these issues, you'll find a copy of the materials we're sharing with stakeholders on our website. That's www.osha.gov. Just choose ergonomics.

  • Of course, there's lengthy process ahead before we actually have an OSHA ergonomics standard in place. After we draft the proposal, we must clear it with the Department of Labor, the Office of Management and Budget and conduct a small business review process. That's why you won't see it in the Federal Register before next summer. Once it's published, we will take public comments and hold hearings to permit a full public discussion and develop the best possible standard. I hope you will take part in that process.

  • Beyond ergonomics, another issue that is a top priority for me is safety and health programs. Every business wants to be successful. And success means more than just making a profit. It means being a good corporate citizen, a caring employer and an industry innovator. Having a strong occupational safety and health program can accomplish all three -- and boost your bottom line as well.

  • Safety and health programs are the critical difference between employers with high injury rates and those with low rates. In North Carolina, we only found a few more hazards at sites with high workers' comp claims than at those with low injury rates. It wasn't the number of hazards that resulted in the higher rate of injuries. It was the lack of attention to everyday reinforcement of good safety and health practices -- in short, the lack of an effective safety and health program. That finding made me a believer. And OSHA is doing everything it can to encourage employers to establish strong safety and health programs.

  • Before I leave office, I want an effective safety and health program to become a fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country. That's the only way to ensure ongoing progress in workplace safety and health. We expect to publish a proposed safety and health program standard by the end of this year. Again, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

  • At the same time, we've looked at other ways to encourage employers to move forward. Our free consultation program stresses safety and health programs -- and nearly 200 groceries and food distributors took advantage of this program last year.

  • Our Voluntary Protection Programs showcase firms with outstanding safety and health programs -- and stellar results. Two food wholesalers participate -- Tropicana in New Jersey and Aurora New City Packing Company in Illinois. This is an excellent way to get recognition for excellence in occupational safety and health. I hope some of you will consider applying.

  • OSHA has also learned -- through its Maine 200 pilot and other experimental programs--that companies with high injury and illness rates can make significant improvements by establishing safety and health programs. So we set up a nationwide program to encourage companies that didn't have outstanding records to begin to systematically address safety and health issues for their workers.

  • We called that partnership approach the Cooperative Compliance Program, or CCP for short. Unfortunately, CCP is under a judicial stay at the moment. That means that more than 500 food distributors who were invited to participate can't choose partnership over traditional enforcement.

  • Let me talk about that program a bit -- why we began it and why we plan to reinstitute it once the court-ordered stay is lifted, and the program is vindicated.

  • For many years OSHA has been criticized -- by employers, Congress and others -- for its reliance on industry-wide rather than site-specific data for inspection targeting. We know we need to zero in not just on high-risk industries but on those specific workplaces where more workers get hurt.

  • Further, OSHA's resources are limited. There are about 2,000 inspectors to cover 100 million workers at 6 million sites. That's not new. And that's not going to change.

  • We need a better way to identify who most needs our help. Not only that, we need a way to begin a process of improvement that continues long after our initial contact with a company.

  • We began by soliciting injury and illness data from 80,000 companies in industries that have experienced high injury and illness rates. Then we narrowed our focus to about 12,000 sites with the highest rates. Those are the ones we invited to join us in a partnership to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses at their sites. 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.

  • CCP is a good program. It extends OSHA's resources. It focuses on those employers who most need help. It offers employers a partnership option. And it sets up an ongoing mechanism to address safety and health concerns in participating workplaces. And it is a far better investment of your tax dollars than sending out OSHA inspectors at random to look for violations. I am confident we will be able to reinstate it sometime next year.

  • There may be some issues on which we agree to disagree. But as I said earlier we can find common ground. This past spring, I signed a partnering charter with the Associated General Contractors. This charter between AGC and OSHA set forth general principles of cooperation and a commitment of good faith to work together to improve safety and health on construction sites. This was after years of contentious relations between OSHA and the construction industry.

  • I would like to see OSHA develop a similar relationship of mutual trust and respect with the National Grocers Association and the Food Distributors International. We can set aside differences we may have and concentrate on areas of agreement to strengthen safety and health for those who distribute and sell groceries.

  • Perhaps we can build on the work you have already begun in developing ergonomics manuals. Maybe you can contribute your success stories to our regional best practices conferences. We might join forces to publicize ways to reduce slips and trips.

  • More than 210,000 grocery store workers experienced work-related injuries or illnesses in 1996. That's the fourth highest total for any industry. Let's get together to bring those numbers down.

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 promises every worker a safe and healthful work environment. I think partnership is the best way to deliver on that promise.

  • The goal is clear -- sending every worker home whole and healthy every day. Who can argue with that? It's as American as Mom and apple pie. Let's work as partners to find the practical ways to make it possible.


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 - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents