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Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 10/26/1998
• Presented To: National Safety Council 86th Annual Congress and Exposition
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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 Safety Council
86th Annual Congress
and Exposition
Los Angeles, California
October 26, 1998

  • I am glad to be here today with George (Reagle) and Phil (Recht) to discuss the road ahead into the 21st Century. One of the concerns we share is roadway safety and what we can do about it.
  • Traffic fatalities are the number one occupational killer. And in 1997, job-related highway fatalities hit a new high point. About 2,600 workers lost their lives due to all transportation crashes, and more than half of those died on the highway.
  • These are grim statistics. But the details give us some clues where to start. Ninety percent of the workers killed in highway crashes were at the wheel when the accident occurred. And nearly half were truckdrivers.
  • OSHA is joining forces with other agencies and organizations committed to cutting the highway death toll. Recently the Deputy Secretaries of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor met to discuss ways we could work together to reduce traffic deaths.
  • What should OSHA do? Regulation is probably not the answer. But we should be involved in promoting safe driving. Perhaps we should develop guidelines for seatbelt use and other basic traffic safety practices. A number of employers have excellent models. In addition, we need to find ways to encourage defensive driving classes, especially for workers who spend a significant amount of their time on the road.
  • We are concerned not only about workers driving vehicles but also about those working on our nation's highways. Too many highway construction workers are killed by motor vehicles each year. We will urge contractors to develop a highway construction partnership with us and DOT with specific policies to reduce the incidence of construction worker fatalities. Every contractor who signs a contract under the new ISTA Act should have a specific safety training program in place for workers on those projects.
  • We're also considering a joint program with DOT and highway law enforcement staff to highlight best practices for safety in work zones. OSHA's Parsippany, New Jersey, office piloted this concept several years ago. Their program involving the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the New Jersey State Police and the Laborers Union helped make New Jersey highway construction work the safest in the country. The key elements include:
    • Safety awareness training for state police;
    • An OSHA-contractor partnership program;
    • A police intervention and referral program; and
    • New Jersey's commitment to provide safety language in contracts.

  • More than 4,500 employees were protected and nearly 4,000 hazards corrected under this program. It has been expanded to include county and local police officers.
  • The National Safety Council is also working on safety for construction workers. Through OSHA's Susan Harwood training grants, NSC is partnering with us in a train-the-trainer approach to pass along strategies for preventing deaths and injuries among highway construction workers.
  • Joint efforts focusing on training and outreach are critical for expanding OSHA's impact on safety and health in the workplace, not just in construction, but in every other field as well. Most people want to do the right thing. OSHA can help them learn what they need to do to protect their employees and prosper financially as well.
  • As we move into the 21st Century, OSHA wants to be ahead of the curve. We believe the key to getting ahead is finding others who are committed to traveling the same road. Our formula for success embraces partnership.
  • Most of you are aware of our premier partnership program -- the Voluntary Protection Program. A number of you are participants. Today nearly 400 workplaces fly the Star flag that marks them as VPP sites. Together VPP sites in more than 130 industries are saving $120 million each year because their injury rates are 60 percent below the average for their industry.
  • VPP works for small companies and for large companies. From C.F. Industries, which operates a warehouse for fertilizer with 6 employees, to Newport News Shipyard, which builds naval vessels with 20,000 workers, VPP makes a difference. We have also recently opened a limited demonstration program for short-term construction projects under VPP. Two companies have applied for this program, and we would welcome more. VPP is also open to federal agency sites. And I will be announcing the first participant in the federal program tomorrow.
  • OSHA also has tried some joint efforts with companies on the other end of the scale, who aren't doing as well. We said: Set up a safety and health program and work with us. 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.
  • Last fall we expanded the program nationwide as the Cooperative Compliance Program. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade associations sued to prevent this life-saving program from taking effect. That court suit will not be resolved until early next year.
  • Once CCP is vindicated, we expect to reinstate the program. Until then, we have adopted an interim inspection program for 99 industries with high injury rates. We've completed more than half of the 3400 inspections planned through March 1999. And we have satisfied ourselves that this new way of targeting, focusing on workplaces with the highest rates of injury and illness, is the right thing to do. And it is a far better investment of scarce tax dollars than sending out OSHA inspectors at random to look for violations. The CCP, allowing partnership opportunities instead of just inspections, would be even better, and I suspect most of you would agree.
  • In a few weeks, OSHA will be holding a conference in Washington to highlight unique partnerships we have put together with various groups around the country. Some have received attention in previous years, like Maine 200 and the New Jersey State Police partnership. Others are little known, like the Cowtown project in Fort Worth, HomeSafe in Denver and the Roofers partnership in the Chicago area. The common thread through all these partnerships is the commitment of each organization and participant to work cooperatively with OSHA to implement effective safety and health programs.
  • I cannot emphasize the importance of safety and health programs too much. Employers who commit themselves to putting safety first and involving their workers in finding and fixing hazards are the nation's most productive businesses.
  • Every business needs an ongoing safety culture that permeates its work -- whether a company produces steel, builds highways or cares for elderly patients in a nursing home.
  • Before I finish my term as the head of OSHA, 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. We have already started the review process for our proposal as required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, and we should have a proposal out next spring.
  • Another top priority for me is ergonomics. Nearly one-third of all occupational injuries and illnesses stem from overexertion or repetition. These are disabling, expensive injuries. They cost our economy as much as $20 billion in direct costs and billions more in indirect costs.
  • Last month the National Academy of Sciences reported to the U.S. Congress that substantial sound scientific evidence exists linking back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal disorders to work. NAS confirmed that reducing heavy lifting and repetitive motion and other biomechanical stresses can lower the risk of injury. Most importantly, NAS clearly stated that the scientific data show that interventions in the workplace can prevent development of these disorders.
  • And Congress, in this year's budget has removed the two-year-old prohibition on OSHA's standard setting. As Senator Specter said, there have been enough studies. It's time for OSHA to move on.
  • In developing an ergonomics standard, we plan to focus first on jobs where injuries are high and solutions are well demonstrated. We have been meeting with stakeholders over the past 10 months to discuss difficult issues, including the scope of a proposed standard and appropriate action levels. We know there are significant problems for workers involved in production operations in manufacturing and manual handling throughout general industry. We plan to publish a proposal next summer.
  • Before I close, let me raise with you a broader, and in some ways more troubling, topic. Two weeks ago, along with NSC President Jerry Scannell, a former head of OSHA, and a delegation of 50 American business, labor and government leaders in occupational safety and health, I attended the Joint EU/US Conference on Health and Safety at Work. It was a time of sharing and exchanging ideas. We were able to view occupational safety and health from different perspectives.
  • As I spoke with government, labor and management officials from various European countries, I was struck by the extensive consultation that is part and parcel of their workplace safety systems. And they don't end up in court over standards they've collaborated to set! I'd like to see our system move in that direction -- less adversarial and more collegial.
  • It also appears much more common among European companies to have all their corporate officers on the same wave length on workplace safety and health matters. CEO's, government affairs staff and safety and health directors for European corporations share a common perspective and work towards the same ends.
  • But in the U.S., during my first year as head of OSHA, I've seen the opposite. Safety and health professionals, such as yourselves, and government affairs people representing you in Washington say very different things. I recently met with safety and health officials representing major U.S. corporations. The topic was ergonomics. So I asked how these companies addressed musculoskeletal disorders in their workplaces. Every single one had an ergonomics program. And every single one felt these programs were valuable.
  • Yet these same corporations in Washington, through their government affairs representatives had endorsed a statement saying there's a "lack of sufficient scientific and medical evidence as to the causes of musculoskeletal disorders or the measures employers can take to prevent these ailments" and describing OSHA's as yet undrafted regulation as "potentially the most intrusive regulation in its history which will necessitate massive compliance costs for employers of all sizes even though the mandated measures will be of dubious effectiveness."
  • In short, corporations such as these were investing in ergonomics programs because they helped workers and improved productivity, but were denying in Washington that ergonomics makes sense. There is a serious disconnect in many American businesses between the safety and health people and the public policy of the corporation.
  • Either your message isn't being delivered or it's not being received. Whatever the case, it's time for American business to have its words match its actions.
  • Don't let American business speak with a forked tongue. Seek an audience with your CEO to demonstrate that safety pays. Cost out your benefits. There is a software program on OSHA's website that can help you-that's Get your message heard. And let your CEO's talk match your walk.
  • As head of OSHA, I'm proud of the progress that has been made in the workplace over the past 27 years. Fatalities have been cut in half. Sweatshops, dusty mills and hazard-littered construction sites are no longer the norm. More men -- and women -- are coming home to their families safe and sound at the end of the day. These are achievements in which we can all take pride.
  • At the same time, I know how much more OSHA needs to do. We need to speed up our standard-setting process. We need to move forward with partnerships. We need to expand our training and education efforts. We need to reach American businesses more often than once every 66 years.
  • And we know we can't do it alone. We welcome your support, encouragement and help as safety and health professionals. Join with us to move ahead of the curve in the next millennium.

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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