Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|
| Information Date:||10/13/1998|
| Presented To:||Joint EU/US Conference on Health and Safety at Work, Luxembourg|
| Speaker:||Jeffress, Charles N.|
"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."
Joint EU/US Conference on
Health and Safety at Work
October 13, 1998
Commissioner Flynn, Minister Hostasch, distinguished representatives of government, labor and industry from the European Union and the United States. We are delighted to be here with you for our first joint conference on health and safety at work.
I bring you warm greetings from U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman and from President Bill Clinton. Both have made clear the importance they place on safety in the workplace and international cooperation. Both have also made clear that they consider building partnerships between the EU and the U.S. vital to the interests of labor and industry.
In May, President Clinton said, "America stands with Europe." Our security, our prosperity, our future itself is inescapably intertwined with yours. We must be able to count on you. And you must be able to count on us.
The U.S. and the EU share a global economy that is increasingly interdependent. We recognize that the destinies of our democracies depend upon building bridges across the Atlantic.
Already our economies are closely tied together. The EU is the largest economic partner for the U.S. Trade between us amounted to nearly $300 billion in 1997. That's 6 million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. European firms now employ one of every 12 U.S. factory workers.
In 1995, the EU and the U.S. forged the New Transatlantic Agreement, setting the foundation for enhanced partnership between us. Under the NTA, we have sought to reduce barriers to trade through our Transatlantic Economic Partnership.
Our first workplace safety and health conference further extends our partnership. It provides the footings for another bridge across the Atlantic.
One way we've begun that process is through taking steps to implement the Mutual Recognition Agreement as European testing and certification laboratories can apply and receive recognition to test and certify products used in American workplaces to ensure these products meet our standards. American labs will be able to perform testing for products to be used in Europe. Assessors from our laboratory recognition program recently visited labs in four European countries to help us gain experience in these areas.
One of the commitments from the U.S./EU summit in December 1997 was to strengthen regulatory cooperation. We agreed to consult during the early stages of drafting regulations, to draw upon our combined technical resources and expertise and to work toward harmonizing regulatory requirements.
I am pleased that we are already moving forward in this commitment. We have worked with the EU in developing a globally harmonized system for hazard communication. Our goal is to have that system in place by the end of the year 2000. It has been a complicated and difficult process for us all. Change is difficult, especially for nations that have well-established regulatory systems. Yet, over the last year, we have agreed on technical criteria for most of the physical, health and environmental measures for the system.
Much work remains to be done. We have to develop criteria for mixtures and for communicating hazard information. But we feel confident that a global system is feasible and probable. This project can serve as a model for future cooperative efforts.
In May 1997, the U.S./EU Working Group on Employment Policy agreed to hold occupational safety and health conferences every two years to share information. Today, we are beginning the first of these tripartite sessions.
We have come to Luxembourg -- about 100 of us -- representing government, labor and industry to share our expertise, our experience and our struggles. We speak different languages. We operate under different laws. We have tried different approaches. But we have a common concern. We care about worker safety and health.
Secretary Herman often says that nations cannot build their economies on the backs of their children. That approach is more likely to perpetuate poverty than to produce prosperity.
The same is true for adults. We do not establish strong economies on the broken backs and sick bodies of our workforce. We build vibrant economies and stable democracies by creating safe and healthful workplaces where all can earn a fair wage without fear for their health and safety.
The most successful companies in the U.S. know that excellence begins with employee relations and then expands to customer relations. They know -- and they demonstrate -- that safety pays.
We currently recognize some 450 U.S. worksites for excellence in employee safety and health. Together those facilities save $120 million each year because their injury rates are 60 percent below the averages for their industries.
Safety pays. You know this, and we know this. When we are able to convince every employer and every worker of the universal truth of this maxim, the battle against injuries and illnesses in the workplace will be ours.
In the U.S., we have made significant progress in the past quarter-century. And we are proud of that. Workplace fatalities have been cut in half. Occupational injury and illness rates have been declining for the past five years. In the last report, they dropped to the lowest level since the U.S. began collecting this information. That's the good news.
But we know that to continue to move forward, we must expand our efforts. And we must do so without expecting additional resources to go with increased responsibilities. We must find ways to increase our effectiveness without increasing our budgets. With Vice President Gore's emphasis on reinventing government, we have developed some new strategies.
Several years ago, we began looking at our jobs as government leaders in safety and health somewhat differently. Our focus had always centered on what we did -- how many inspections we conducted, how many violations we found, how many citations we issued, how many new safety and health standards we published.
But it is not what happens in Washington or in local government offices that counts. It is what happens in each workplace -- day after day after day. Our 2,000 inspectors must stretch to cover 6 million workplaces. Inspections in and of themselves are not the answer. We must find a better way to make a lasting impact.
Today instead of counting activities, we count results. We look for strategies that will lead to fewer injuries and illnesses among American workers. We used to evaluate ourselves by the number of employers we visit or penalties we assess. Now we use a different measuring stick.
Our goal is no longer to conduct a set number of inspections. Our goal is very simple. We want to send every worker home every day whole and healthy. And we are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.
We have a five-year strategic plan to move us forward. It includes three specific objectives: (1) to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses, (2) to change workplace culture to incorporate a focus on safety and (3) to increase public confidence in our efforts to achieve our mission.
There have been two keys to our new approach: partnerships and safety and health programs. I mentioned the partnerships we have established to recognize workplaces that have done an outstanding job in taking good care of their workers.
We have also tried some joint efforts with companies on the other end of the scale. They work, too. We said: Set up a safety and health program and work with us. Reduce the chance that we will inspect you. Watch your injuries and illnesses go down. Save money. Improve employee morale. Cut employee turnover. Those who participated in our pilot projects succeeded. They learned for themselves that safety pays.
Another approach to partnership is to work with groups of employers with a common interest. We have developed partnerships to improve workplace safety with poultry processors, roofing contractors, home builders, temporary help agencies and others.
The importance of safety and health programs has become very clear to us. We do not yet have a universal requirement for U.S. businesses to have a safety and health program. That must change.
Before I finish my term, I want an effective safety and health program to become a fundamental responsibility of every employer in the U.S. That's the only way to ensure ongoing progress in workplace safety and health. Many of you represent countries where it would be unthinkable not to have a safety and health program on the job. I want that to be true in the U.S. as well.
The challenge for our OSHA inspectors is to learn to evaluate safety and health programs. This represents a different approach to our work than our traditional inspection approach of simply identifying hazards. Systems analysis is not a technique we have yet taught our inspectors. It represents a cultural change needed in our approach to our job comparable to the cultural change in business to make safety and health programs a high priority for them.
There is another issue on which EU countries are clearly ahead of the U.S., and that is ergonomics. I am pleased that we will be discussing this issue during the conference. Musculoskeletal disorders are a major problem in the U.S., costing our economy as much as $20 billion in direct costs and billions more in indirect costs. Progressive employers already address overexertion and repetitive motion. But some will need the prompting of a formal requirement before they act.
I look forward to learning more about how you see deal with this issue. Ergonomics has been very controversial in the U.S. Our approach is to focus first on jobs where injuries are high and solutions are well demonstrated. We are beginning to develop a rule that would cover employers with workers involved in production operations or manual handling. Your experience will be of great benefit as we seek to develop a practical rule.
We live in a time of rapid and extensive global change. To keep pace, it is critical that we look beyond the geographic borders to share good ideas and successful practices to benefit workers on both sides of the Atlantic.
The dialogue we open today will further the productive partnership promised in the New Transatlantic Agenda. By including labor, industry and government in our circle, we can gain valuable perspective and understanding on issues that concern us all. The open dialogue also lays the foundation for the infrastructure we want to build to provide an ongoing exchange of information.
I know that countries, companies and workers in the EU share our vision: a safe and healthful working environment for all workers. As we share our expertise and our experience, we can move more rapidly to fulfill that promise for workers.
Thank you for inviting us to Luxembourg to begin this important work. As we approach the next millennium, I look forward to working closely with the EU as partners in strengthening workplace safety and health for all of our workers.
|Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|