Charles N. Jeffress
International Association of Fire Fighters
44th Biennial Convention
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
August 20, 1998
- I am delighted to join the International Association of Fire Fighters today. I know how
much the IAFF values safety. Throughout your 80 years, you've made that a clear focus.
And thanks to your general president, Al Whitehead, and others, your efforts are paying
- Professional firefighters perform an invaluable service. We all owe you a debt of
- Your mission and OSHA's mission are the same -- to save lives. To do that you put your
own lives on the line, day after day. You are the first to arrive at every disaster scene.
- You respond when buildings go up in flames, hazardous materials spill or terrorists strike.
You rescue victims, clean up dangerous chemicals and treat the injured.
- Our job is to protect you.
- You face danger at every turn. Our job is to see that you face it with the equipment you
need to keep you safe.
- You encounter hazardous materials. Our job is to see that you have the information you
need to handle them safely.
- You run into unexpected risks. Our job is to see that you have the backup you need to do
the job right.
- You watch over the safety of men, women and children across the U.S. IAFF members
protect about 85 percent of us. Yet few are even aware you're on the job -- watching,
waiting, ready to respond. But when we need you, you are there -- in minutes -- to help us.
- On behalf of President Clinton and Secretary Alexis Herman, I thank you for what you do
for the people of America.
- We in OSHA want to extend your life-saving cause to the American workplace.
Seventeen workers die on the job every day in America; 50 are injured every minute.
And according to your own figures, a third of you will be hurt this year. We can do
better, and we must do better.
- President Clinton and the Republican leadership in the House are locked in a struggle
over protection of American workers. Among other attacks on Administration programs,
the House committee has proposed to cut the budget for OSHA enforcement programs.
President Clinton has threatened to veto this bill unless changes are made. We will not
accept further attacks upon American workers. We stand with you, demanding that
Congress provide protections for the working people of this country.
- Within the Administration, we are focusing on creative, innovative strategies to
accomplish our mission. We're searching for ways to leverage our limited resources, to
multiply our efforts to encourage employers to protect their workers.
- We want a way of doing business in this country that sees safety not as an afterthought,
but as a critical, integral part of work. That means a safety and health program.
- For that reason, virtually all of our partnership efforts are built around the cornerstone of
safety and health programs -- programs that recognize workplaces with stellar performance
and programs that focus on helping companies with high injury and illness rates. Each of
you, as career firefighters, should be covered by such a program as well.
- My top standard-setting priority is a regulation on 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 way to make safety a way of
- Our proposed regulation 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
employers of different sizes in different industries. We will have a proposal out for
comment before the end of this year.
- Another of the Administration's concerns has been that all public employees are not
covered by OSHA standards. We have asked Congress to change that.
- Public employees -- federal, state and local -- deserve the protection of OSHA standards -- not
just in the 25 states that run their own OSHA programs, but everywhere, nationwide. It's
past time to stop treating public employees as second-class citizens.
- That's critical for firefighters. We put a rule on the books this year to help protect you.
Our new respirator standard issued in January clarifies once and for all the need for two
firefighters outside when two firefighters are inside a burning building fighting a
structural fire. No more inconsistencies in interpretations. No more variations in
understandings. One rule. One way to operate.
- It's a rule that's going to save firefighters' lives. And we couldn't have done it without
your strong support -- both from General President Whitehead and your 2,500 locals.
- But the problem remains. Since public employees are exempt from federal OSHA
coverage, the 2-in/2-out rule only applies to about half your 225,000 members.
We want to see -- and I know you want to see -- every firefighter covered by this lifesaving
rule. We will ensure that each of the states operating a state OSHA program follows this
rule. However, Congress must change the law so that firefighters in every state are
protected by OSHA.
- Each year more than 100 firefighters die on the job, and 95,000 are injured. These men
and women -- your companions -- set out to protect property or to save someone else's life,
but lost their own instead. We must find ways to better protect the lives of those who
come ready to save ours.
- Our sister agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), isstudying these deaths. NIOSH is committed to investigating every on-duty firefighter
fatality. Every one -- cardiac arrest, crushing, electrical shock, stroke -- everything. And it
doesn't matter where the death occurred -- on the fire-ground, during training, en route to
the scene -- anywhere.
- NIOSH has promised to analyze them all to find the cause leading to a firefighter's death.
Knowing the causes will help us find ways to prevent needless deaths and injuries.
NIOSH is sharing this information as it completes each review. Case reports with their
findings are available on the NIOSH web page at www.cdc.gov/niosh.
- There's another issue that we all need to look at from a safety perspective over the next
16 months -- and that is Y2K. The Year 2000 is a computer problem, but it's also a public
safety and a workplace safety issue because of the data chips embedded in countless
- On January 1, 2000 are all the fire alarms going to go off at the same time? Or are none
of them going to operate at all? Will security systems function properly? Will
underground storage tank monitors work? We've got to find out, and we've got to do it
now while there's time to fix the bug.
- Earlier this year, Business Week reported 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, others need to check for
potential Y2K problems right now -- long before the clock ticks past midnight on
December 31, 1999.
- OSHA also is focusing on safety and health issues that affect firefighters who act as
emergency medical technicians -- like bloodborne pathogens. Specifically, we're looking
at ways to prevent needlesticks that can result in life-threatening illnesses and sometimes
even death. Needlesticks account for up to 80% of the accidental exposures to blood.
- OSHA believes the key to preventing needlesticks lies in a comprehensive strategy -- a
programmatic approach. Just buying new devices labeled "safer" is not enough.
- Later this month we will be issuing in the Federal Register a formal Request for
Information on needlestick prevention. It will include about a dozen questions on
preventing needlesticks. But the bottom line is simple. We want to know what works.
Once we find out strategies that make sense, we will share that information broadly.
- Another issue of concern is occupational transmission of tuberculosis. Last October we
published a proposal that we estimate would prevent occupational transmission of TB, at
more than 100,000 facilities nationwide. The OSHA proposal is based on CDC's
guidelines, but would be enforceable once it is final. We've held hearings around the
country on the TB proposal, and we're evaluating the public comments and testimony.
- We're also moving forward with our negotiated rulemaking on fire protection in
shipyards. The negotiated rulemaking committee has been working on this specialty area
for about 18 months now. They will be meeting again in September.
- Firefighters are on the front lines in saving lives. You take good care of us. We need to
take better care of you. We need to find and address the causes of deaths among
- You deserve protection against those hazards. My job, and the job of the state OSHA
programs that cover you, is to see that you get it. I am proud to work with a President and
an administration that is committed to making that happen. On behalf of President
Clinton and Secretary Herman, thank you for being a partner in our larger mission of
saving the lives of our fellow Americans.