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Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 07/21/1998
• Presented To: National Association of Governmental Labor Officials
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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
National Association of
Governmental Labor Officials
Annual Summer Conference
July 21, 1998

  • Partnership can take many forms-limited, general, junior, senior, silent, equal, vested. But whatever the form, in every case, the partners have found it more profitable to work together than to go it alone.

  • Partnership makes sense for all of us who care about workers and employers. Your NAGLO conferences give you a great forum for sharing issues and working to solve problems that cut across state lines. I want you to know that Secretary Herman and all of us in the U.S. Department of Labor are committed to working in partnership with state labor commissioners.

  • For more than 50 years, your association has been meeting to compare notes, to learn from one another, and to talk about national issues that affect each of us. I commend you on your commitment to continuing this dialogue, and on behalf of Secretary Herman, I offer you the partnership of the U.S. Department of Labor in keeping the dialogue going.

  • At OSHA, we depend on partnership -- with employers and employees, with trade associations and unions and with state departments of labor -- to improve safety and health for workers.

  • Today, OSHA covers more than 100 million workers at 6 million sites. Together with those of you running state running OSHA programs, we have about 2,000 inspectors or one inspector for every 3,000 worksites and every 50,000 employees. No other regulatory agency is so underfunded for the task before it. Clearly, if workplace safety and health depends upon inspections alone, we're not going to succeed.

  • That's why we must concentrate on results rather than activities. We must use our resourcefulness to bridge the gap between our resources and our responsibilities. We need to leverage our resources to multiply our results. And leveraging depends upon partners who share our goals and help carry the load.

  • If we care about workers and business owners, we must work together on many issues. For example, there's a wage gap between skilled and unskilled workers. And it's getting bigger. Last month the New York Times reported that the gap is even wider than it looks. That's because unskilled workers fall short in benefits and quality of work life as well as wages.

  • We need to protect low-wage workers. They deserve a better deal -- a higher wage and safe and healthful working conditions.

  • But we also need to help workers get the skills they need to compete in a global, information-based economy. Fifty years ago, 60 percent of the workforce was unskilled and 20 percent skilled with the rest in professional positions. Today it's just the opposite. We need 60 percent skilled workers and only 20 percent unskilled workers.

  • That's why the House plan to eliminate summer jobs for youth and slash the President's School-to-Work initiative is so short-sighted. We may save a dollar today. But we'll spend much more tomorrow if we don't invest now in our youth.

  • As Secretary Herman puts it, "Some may say we can't afford these programs, but I say we can't afford not to have them." We need to introduce teens to the workforce. We need to convince them that education pays. We need to show them that skills matter. And most of all, we need to reinforce the core value that responsibility and work bring reward.

  • For those already out of school, we need the President's GI Bill for America's Workers -- a job training reform bill. A high school dropout is four times more likely to be unemployed than a college graduate. And this bill would invest $250 million in local efforts to reach these young people. The bill has bipartisan backing because it emphasizes local flexibility, accountability and choice. It streamlines programs, cuts red tape and provides customized service.

  • We also need to assist those making the transition from welfare to work. President Clinton's promise to end welfare as we know it has been fulfilled. More than 3 million Americans have left the welfare rolls. We need to help wage earners from these families move into the workforce. That means help with childcare and transportation. It means developing interpersonal skills as well as job skills.

  • We know we face a challenge with those who are the hardest to serve -- those who remain on the welfare rolls. Long term cases. Adults with limited math and reading skills. Poor work histories. Those struggling to overcome problems with substance abuse. We need to help them overcome employment barriers and break the cycle of dependency. We need to invest in their future -- and ours.

  • This is a great time to do it. We have the healthiest economy in over a generation. President Clinton has proposed the first balanced budget in 30 years. Unemployment remains near record lows. Inflation is the lowest in 32 years. We've created 16 million new jobs since the President took office.

  • And there's $3 billion in this year's budget to help address the tough cases. The majority of those funds, as you know, go directly to local communities to pay for innovative and creative welfare-to-work strategies. Those dollars are designed for "outside the box" ideas rather than "inside-the-beltway" programs.

  • There are other issues we need to address together -- retirement savings and pensions, for example. One of every two Americans has no pension coverage at work. And one of three who could participate in a 401(k) program -- doesn't. Plus, Americans save less than four pennies of every dollar. That's a recipe for a lean retirement.

  • President Clinton and Secretary Herman held a summit on retirement savings last month. Their findings are a wake-up call for us all. But three groups merit special attention. Women -- who are often concentrated in jobs without pensions, where nearly three of four earn less than $25,000. Minorities -- since fewer than two-thirds of both blacks and Hispanics have private pensions. And small businesses -- where 32 million of the 50 million Americans without pension coverage work.

  • We need to say, "If you're saving, keep it up. If you haven't started, begin today." And we need to work with small businesses to help them set up pensions to protect their employees' future.

  • Another area of concern -- here and abroad -- is abusive child labor. As a father of four children, this is an issue I care about deeply. No kids should have to sacrifice their childhood for the sake of their family's livelihood. And no business should make its profit by exploiting the labor of the youngest and most vulnerable among us.

  • I'm proud that the Department of Labor is providing leadership on this issue. We are working with Senator Tom Harkin to modernize U.S. domestic child labor laws. And we are working with the International Labor Organization to address this issue internationally.

  • In OSHA, we're moving forward on a number of fronts. 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 on record.

  • States operating their own OSHA programs have contributed to this success. Employers and employees who've recognized the value of working together have made it possible. Partnership is paying off in the safety and health-in both human and financial terms.

  • Of course, our job remains unfinished. The numbers and the stories of individuals cross your desk and mine every day. Even with the progress we've made, nearly 50 American workers are injured every minute of each 40-hour workweek. Almost 17 die each day. We must keep looking for ways to improve working conditions.

  • At OSHA, we are looking at success in very practical, measurable terms as stated in our five-year strategic plan. One of our goals is to 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.

  • But perhaps our most important goal is fostering a workplace culture that views worker safety and health as an inherent part of work. That means a safety and health program.

  • 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 an effective safety and health program. That finding made me a believer.

  • 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.

  • But meanwhile, we are using every opportunity to encourage employers to establish safety and health programs. The Cooperative Compliance Program is OSHA's primary strategy to build partnership with employers who most need our intervention. 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, 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 and other trade associations will probably not be resolved until early next year.

  • So, we've moved to Plan B-an interim inspection effort targeted using the site-specific injury and illness data we collected last year from 80,000 employers. We're looking forward to having CCP vindicated in court so we can implement our partnership option for employers who need our help most.

  • In the context of workplace safety and health programs, there's another safety issue that we all need to address over the next 18 months-and that is Y2K. As businesses gear up to solve their Year 2000 computer problems, safety and health systems need to be considered as well. Where are all those computer chips with timing and reporting capabilities that are embedded in technical systems? It's critical that companies find them and make corrections to prevent the failure of essential safety systems.

  • Another top priority for me is promulgating an ergonomics standard. More than one of every five illnesses and lost-time injuries in 1996 resulted from repetitive motion or overexertion. The financial cost is staggering-billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs. Our staff is meeting with stakeholders today and Thursday to discuss our progress in this area and to explore options for some of the more difficult issues. We hope to be ready to publish a proposed ergonomics standard next summer.

  • I know some states are moving ahead in developing their own standards to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. California's standard took effect a year ago. North Carolina has announced its intention to develop a standard, and Washington state is considering the issue. The American National Standards Institute is seeking comment on its draft ergonomics standard. Clearly there's widespread recognition that this is a workplace issue that demands our attention now. Let's pool our information. Let's share success stories. Let's work together to find the best ways to protect workers against these painful and debilitating injuries. Those states that are moving ahead, I salute you for your efforts.

  • We've also been able to work together with the Congress on a bipartisan basis on some issues. Two bills sponsored by Representative Cass Ballenger that we supported recently became law. 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 represent a sensible approach that essentially codifies current OSHA practice.

  • There are other changes that Congress could make in the Occupational Safety and Health Act to improve protection for employees. We need to cover public employees-federal, state and local-in all states, not just the 23 that run their own OSHA programs. Whistleblowers need more protections, and we need stiffer criminal penalties-from a misdemeanor to a felony-for employers whose willful conduct causes the death of an employee.

  • I am pleased with our progress in OSHA. And I'm pleased with the partnerships we've developed with the Congress, with states and with employers and employees. I want to expand those cooperative ventures.

  • For most of us, life is going well in the U.S. in 1998. The economic signals are promising, and the mood is optimistic. Now, more than ever, we need to see that everyone shares in the prosperity.

  • Let's banish forever abusive child labor and sweatshops. Let's boost wages for those at the bottom. Let's help those already in the workforce build their skills. Let's work with those in school and those making the transition from welfare to work to see that they succeed. Let's provide safe and healthful work environments. And let us all save today to build the nest egg we will need in retirement tomorrow.

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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