Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - Table of Contents
• Information Date: 08/23/2010
• Presented To: Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association (VPPPA)
• Speaker: David Michaels

Remarks by
DAVID MICHAELS
Assistant Secretary of Labor
for Occupational Safety and Health

Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association
(VPPPA)
Annual National Conference
Orlando, Florida
Monday, August 23, 2010

WELCOME AND THANKS

It's a pleasure to be here with you in Orlando this morning. The companies and agencies represented in this audience are exemplary leaders in workplace safety and health. You are what makes OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs successful and respected nationwide.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and I want you to know how much we appreciate the passion and efforts of VPP participants and members of this association. Secretary Solis's vision of "Good Jobs For Everyone" is supported by OSHA's insistence that the only good jobs are safe jobs. We depend on VPPPA members to help us ensure that our nation's workforce stays safe and healthy on the job.

By saving workers' lives every day on the job, VPP participants provide daily proof to others that making worker protection a priority is good for business. You are OSHA's best ambassadors, and Secretary Solis and I thank you for setting an example of excellence.

While this is my first opportunity to address your national convention since I began leading OSHA in December, I have met or heard from many of you -- including members of your association's board and particularly your National Board of Directors Chairman Dave Jackson and Executive Director Davis Layne. We've had many productive discussions, and we'll have more as, together, we consider the future of VPP.

OSHA'S PRIORITIES

As we have sadly observed in recent months, not all employers are following the stellar example of VPP participants. Seven workers were killed in a refinery fire in Washington State; 29 coal miners perished in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia; and off the coast of Louisiana, 11 more workers were lost in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

These catastrophic events are powerful reminders that thousands of workers across our country continue to face risks every day. Every day in America, 14 workers are killed on the job. Most of them die far from the headlines, often noted only by their families, friends and co-workers. Every year in America, more than four million workers are seriously injured on the job and many more than we know are sickened by exposure to toxic agents where they work.

The worst news is that all these injuries, illnesses and deaths were preventable. 5,000 workers who died last year, and the year before, and the year before that -- should have returned home alive. None of them should have died just trying to earn a living.

With so many workers at risk every day, this Administration has chosen to focus our attention, our resources and our resolve on developing and strongly enforcing OSHA standards -- to send the strongest message possible to outlaw employers.

Since the OSH Act created OSHA 40 years ago, nearly everything has changed in American workplaces. New technologies, work practices and products have introduced both opportunities and problems into every worksite. OSHA's standards have not always kept pace, so this Administration is moving forward and modernizing the agency to serve the needs of a 21st century workforce.

We are moving forward with strong, science-based standards and guidance, targeted enforcement to pursue workplaces where workers are most urgently in need of protection, and giving workers a stronger voice in their safety and health.

ENSURING THE INTEGRITY OF VPP

As we invigorate and modernize OSHA, we want the VPP to remain our model program for preventing worker injuries and illnesses.

We have been spending much of the last year moving forward to ensure the integrity of VPP. We have initiated a careful review of how the Regions and our National Office implement VPP; this will ensure consistent, high-quality administration and conformance with the VPP Policies and Procedures Manual and the Jan. 9, 2010, Federal Register Notice that outline these criteria.

We have issued internal memorandums to address the Government Accountability Office's recommendations. They follow a consistent message -- improving the administration of VPP -- and define actions for OSHA's National Office and the Regions.

These actions have improved OSHA's internal controls for a more consistent administration of the VPP.

PRESERVING VPP

Ensuring the integrity of VPP is one thing. But our most important challenge is preserving the existence of the VPP program. Let me be clear: OSHA is trying to save VPP, not end it.

But ensuring that VPP survives and grows presents a serious challenge for OSHA when faced with tight budgets, limited staff, and calls to cut programs and expenses in every government agency.

Last year, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab spoke at this conference and told you that Secretary Solis and this Administration valued this program, how much he and Secretary Solis had learned about the benefits of VPP and had seen first hand how VPP companies had gone above and beyond OSHA requirements, setting a model for companies nationwide.

But he also said that this Administration was committed to putting more emphasis and more resources into enforcement and standard-setting. This change has not been without growing pains. We have been clear with our Regional staff that while we have eliminated the former annual quotas for new VPP members, we were committed to signing up and reapproving worthy companies. We have heard your complaints that some OSHA regions have not been pursuing new programs and reapprovals aggressively enough and we are seeking to correct that. Despite these issues, this fiscal year we signed up 108 new VPP members and reapproved 150.

Over the past year, we have come to VPPPA meetings, toured VPP workplaces and listened carefully to your descriptions of the benefits of this program.

But we've also been frank in laying out for you the difficult choices we had to make: Given that it is unlikely that the OSHA "pie" would continue to grow significantly, we needed to decide whether to put OSHA's limited resources into companies that "get it," that are dedicated to workplace safety and doing a great job, or to put more resources into companies that don't get it, that continue to injure and kill workers.

And as predicted, in the FY 2011 budget OSHA was tasked with the extremely unpleasant task of identifying programs where funding could be eliminated. Our response, and I believe it was a good response, was to try to save VPP by eliminating federal funding and looking for alternative forms of non-governmental funding.

In Congress and elsewhere, various program funding options are being explored. For example, we have been exploring the introduction of user fees from VPP participants with House of Representatives staff.

OSHA and the Department of Labor support the idea of funding VPP through participant fees. While many VPP participants worry that user fees may undermine the integrity of the program, we have reassuring evidence of successful user-fee programs in other agencies.

No one should make the mistake of thinking that private funding would mean that any company could buy its way into VPP recognition simply by paying a user fee. OSHA should remain the ultimate arbiter of whether a worksite earns and keeps its VPP status.

But let me be very clear to you today. We value this program. We want it to continue. But it is very unlikely to continue under the current federal funding formula. The way things stand right now, we believe that the House Appropriations subcommittee is proposing to provide $3 million additional funding to OSHA's budget to fund VPP for FY11, but will be asking for a report on funding alternatives for FY12. The Senate, on the other hand, has cut all funding for the program without any mention of a fee based system or any other funding sources.

So, let me say this carefully. The bottom line is that if we are to succeed in saving this program, we -- OSHA and VPPPA together -- need to present a united front on this issue, because in this environment of austere government budgets a fractured fight over VPP risks losing the program entirely. None of us wants that. If OSHA and VPPPA can agree on a road forward, we increase our chances of keeping VPP alive so participants can continue to serve as models for successful worker protection.

COMPLIANCE ASSISTANCE

Despite the myths that seem to grow like weeds in Washington, OSHA is also still strongly supporting compliance assistance. In fact, over the last year we have been increasing our compliance assistance -- much of it with a specific focus: Developing and distributing more information and training grants to help workers understand and exercise their workplace rights, and to give workers a greater voice in their workplaces.

We want to see workers participating in developing and implementing Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, and we want strong whistleblower protections in place that will allow workers to feel confident about voicing their concerns when they feel exposed to hazards on the job.

OSHA has increased its efforts to remind employers to comply with requirements that they must present information about workers' rights, safety and health training materials, information and instructions in a language that their workers can understand.

With a disproportionate number of workers in construction and especially Spanish-speaking workers getting hurt and killed on the job, OSHA has stepped up its outreach efforts over the last year, along with enforcement.

In April, Secretary Solis convened a historic National Action Summit on Latino Worker Health and Safety in Houston. Nearly a thousand workers, employers, labor leaders, representatives from community- and faith-based organizations, consulates and government gathered for two days. I was happy to see many of you at the summit. Together we sought new and effective ways to improve workers' knowledge of their workplace rights and their ability to exercise those rights.

The Summit presented ways to leverage government resources through increased partnerships and collaborations to reach workers who have limited knowledge of English. We showcased effective education materials and programs that can be used by employers, community organizations and others.

I am pleased that VPP participants employ these strategies already to ensure that all workers understand their rights and receive safety and health information and training tailored to the hazards in their workplaces. All we're asking is that every employer follows your lead.

ACCURATE REPORTING

Let's address another question: OSHA has received a number of calls, including one from Davis Layne, asking about OSHA's position on worker incentive programs and VPP.

Let me clarify any confusion:

We have found that incentive programs based primarily on injury and illness number often have the effect of discouraging workers from reporting an injury or illness. We cannot tolerate programs that provide this kind of negative reinforcement and this type of program would keep a company out of the VPP until the program or practice is corrected.

We disapprove of workplace health and safety incentive programs that, for example, offer a pizza party or allow workers to enter a raffle for a new truck as a reward for not reporting a workplace injury or illness. We disapprove of programs where managers receive large bonuses for driving down their DART rate. However well-intended, these incentive programs are likely to discourage employees from reporting injuries because they want to receive a reward.

On the other hand, an incentive program that encourages or rewards workers for reporting hazards or near misses, or for participating in health and safety training or on a health and safety committee are incentives that we can get behind.

Good incentive programs feature positive reinforcement when workers are rewarded for demonstrating safe work practices and when workers take active measures such as reporting close calls, abating hazards, and using their stop-work authority to prevent a workplace tragedy.

So, let's be sure we understand: VPP participating worksites are certainly permitted to use an incentive program -- as long as it's the right kind of program.

INJURY AND ILLNESS PREVENTION PROGRAMS

VPPPA, like OSHA, recognizes that no human being should have to leave home each day afraid of never seeing family and friends again because of unsafe conditions on the job.

When I worked at the Department of Energy, I managed that agency's VPP which was modeled after OSHA's VPP. I experienced first hand the value of labor, management and government cooperation to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. I saw the results of implementing an effective, comprehensive injury and illness prevention program.

As VPP participants know from successful experience, these programs are designed to put a stop to the "us versus them" and "catch me if you can" attitude we find in too many workplaces where owners still put profits above protecting workers' lives.

When it comes to making worker protection a priority and a successful business model, VPPPA gets it, VPP sites have the track record to prove it works, and OSHA is working toward moving more workplaces to get on board.

This is why OSHA has proposed mandating that all employers institute and implement an effective injury and illness prevention program. We published the proposal this spring, and we held public hearings over the last two months in New Jersey, Texas, California and Washington, D.C., to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide their perspective.

As we advance through the rulemaking process, I am counting on individual VPP participants as well as VPPPA's leadership to support this proposed rule.

Our country's workforce needs this rule. We cannot continue to watch as more than 5,000 workers die on the job every year from preventable injuries, and as thousands more suffer and die years later from illnesses caused by preventable exposures to hazardous workplace conditions.

ADMINISTRATION VISION

This morning I have given you bits and pieces of the direction in which OSHA is going. Let me take a moment now to lay out the whole roadmap.

Under this administration, here are OSHA's key strategies:

  1. We are making deterrence the primary objective of our enforcement efforts -- by targeting high-risk workplaces, exposing recalcitrant employers to a harsh, public spotlight, and strengthening our penalties.
  2. We are promoting an active, engaged workforce by ensuring that men and women have a voice in their working conditions -- by increasing workers' awareness of their rights and how to exercise these rights, and by strengthening whistleblower protections.
  3. We are refocusing and strengthening our compliance assistance programs to help employers abate hazards and save lives on the job. Our tools of choice are: the On-site Consultation Program, the Susan Harwood training grants, more and better compliance materials tailored to workers but especially workers with limited English literacy, and ensuring that our cooperative programs achieve their fundamental objective -- protecting the safety and health of workers.
  4. Injury and illness prevention programs that can help change the culture of our workplaces
  5. Agency collaborations -- as we are doing with EPA, NIEHS, NIOSH and the Coast Guard to protect the cleanup workers on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico; and by partnering with MSHA to strengthen the OSH Act
  6. We are strengthening OSHA's use of science -- by working closely with our sister agency NIOSH to more quickly incorporate scientific advances into our regulatory and compliance assistance activities.
  7. We are helping to strengthen State OSHA plans to ensure that they are at least as effective as states covered by Federal OSHA.
  8. We are attempting to conduct our work with transparency, openness, integrity and humility. We held a day-long "OSHA Listens" forum in March to welcome comments from employers, workers, safety and health professionals and families of workers killed on the job; we have held interactive Web chats to discuss the Department of Labor's strategic plan and regulatory agenda for OSHA; and we are making available online searchable statistics on worksite exposure measurements and other data.
  9. Finally, we are also moving to modernize workplace injury and illness tracking by focusing on accurate recordkeeping.

VALUING SGEs

For OSHA to achieve these goals and modernize its operations for the needs of a 21st century workforce, OSHA needs to extend its reach and influence more than ever in workplaces across the country. Therefore, VPP's Special Government Employees will be needed more than ever.

SGEs provide valuable support to OSHA. Within a program that models excellence in worker safety and health, SGEs epitomize excellence in service and partnership.

OSHA is grateful for the commitment of VPP employers who sponsor their SGEs' participation, and we very much appreciate the more than 1,100 active SGEs that are serving and saving workers' lives.

I especially want to recognize and welcome the more than 50 brand-new SGEs who completed training just this past weekend. I'm going to ask our newest SGEs to stand up as we give them -- and the personnel who conducted the two classes -- a well-deserved round of applause...

SGE OF THE YEAR AWARD

We've come to a special point in today's program, when we present the National VPP Special Government Employee of the Year Award. The award recognizes a Special Government Employee "who epitomizes and exhibits exceptional support, effort, and action in VPP, and in so doing sets him-or-herself apart from other SGEs."

The person selected must: be actively involved in volunteer activities that benefit VPP; perform outreach and assistance to employers and workers outside their own company; and have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the partnership ideals of VPP.

Ten worthy SGEs have been nominated for this annual honor. As I announce the names of the nominees for the Sixth Annual SGE of the Year Award, would you please join me on stage.

Region 1:         Stephen Gauthier -- General Electric
Region 2:         Gregory Poupore -- Pfizer
Region 3:         Jeffrey Medrano -- Norfolk Naval Shipyard
Region 4:         Robert Royal -- DAL Global Services, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines
Region 5:         Bill Burke -- Miller Valentine
Region 6:         Kirk Crandall -- NRG Texas
Region 7:         Raymond Magruder -- Quaker Manufacturing
Region 8:         Charles Soderquist -- Sturgeon Electric
Region 9:         Brian Ward -- National Security Technologies
Region 10:         Ella Iott -- Clearwater Paper

Congratulations on your achievement and your commitment to worker safety and health. Each of you is a champion -- a true VPP Star! Let's give this year's nominees a big round of applause...

At this point, one of these stars normally would be announced as the winner of the SGE of the Year Award, but when we tallied the scorecards for the 10 nominees, we came up with a tie. So this year, it is my pleasure and honor to announce the two winners of the 6th Annual SGE of the Year Award. Please join me in recognizing this year's doubly-worthy winners: Region 7's Raymond Magruder and Region 8's Charles Soderquist.

Charles Soderquist exhibits exceptional support, effort, and action in VPP. In the last year, Charles --

  • Participated on multiple VPP onsite evaluations and mentored potential participants
  • Instructed OSHA 10-hour certification courses
  • Participated in a forum on the VPP Mobile Workforce Demonstration at the Region VIII VPPPA conference
  • Participated in the local National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) alliance with OSHA and the IBEW Local Union 68 in Denver

Charles has a reputation for reliability: On several occasions he was there for VPP when called at the last minute to assist in a site visit. Charles is an ambassador for safety and health excellence and has embraced his role as an SGE.

With equal valor, Raymond Magruder exhibits exceptional support, effort and action in VPP. Raymond --

  • Participated last year on multiple VPP onsite evaluations and mentored applicants and participants for initial and re-approval VPP status.
  • Served for two years on the Region VII VPPPA Board of Directors
  • Conducted workshops on Becoming an SGE and Practical Methods of Mentoring at last year's Region VII VPPPA conference

Ray is strongly committed to worker safety and health and the VPP program. This commitment is evident in his coordination of the local Health, Safety and Environmental Network with industries in the Columbia, Missouri area.

Raymond and Charles: On behalf of OSHA, the entire VPP community, and your federal government, we sincerely and enthusiastically thank you. Congratulations on your award!

NEW VPP PARTICIPANTS

This morning we want to welcome a very special member to the VPP family.

Several years ago, the senior management of Morton Salt concluded that "to have one worker or contractor injured on Morton Salt property is unacceptable." Although Morton Salt was recognized as one of the safest salt companies, this was not good enough.The company's leaders understood that achieving a goal of zero worker injuries required a dramatic change in the corporate safety culture. Research told them that they needed more worker participation and that they needed to move beyond regulatory compliance -- they needed to implement a comprehensive injury and illness prevention program.

The principles of VPP came closer than any other approach the company researched. Managers implemented a pilot VPP project at their Long Beach, California, facility, and it was so well received that they decided to expand the program to other facilities.

VPP is now Morton Salt's official corporate approach to safety and health, and the company's leadership has even taken these principles far outside the borders of the United States. Morton Salt implements the principles of VPP at its facility in the most southern island in the Bahamas to its most northern operation in Nova Scotia

Morton Salt reports that through the implementation of VPP, worker injuries continue to decrease, workers are more satisfied, a safety culture is taking root, and productivity is up.Therefore, I am proud to announce Morton Salt Corporation as the most recent addition to the roster of OSHA VPP Corporate participants. Welcome!

The Department of Defense continues to use the VPP model to strengthen the safety culture in its facilities and reduce injuries and illnesses among civilian workers. At the end of July, 32 Defense installations achieved VPP approval. DOD's vision is for 400 installations to eventually attain VPP recognition.

To the new DOD sites who joined us this year: Welcome!

MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER

I hope I have made OSHA's position clear this morning: We value the role of VPP participants as models of workplace excellence.

For the program to continue in these challenging financial times, OSHA needs VPPPA's support to help save the Voluntary Protection Programs. Let's work together to forge a united front and a confident road ahead for the programs.

OSHA also needs this association to stand up for VPP by supporting this Administration -- particularly:

  • our proposal to mandate injury and illness prevention programs
  • our push for accurate reporting
  • our pursuit of stronger penalties to impress bad employers to change their ways and protect their workers
  • and our focus on prevention.

And we need to make worker safety a household word and discussion at every kitchen table across America.

The massive egg recall dominating the news this morning reminds us that Americans are intensely concerned about their health, the environment and sustainability of our social and economic infrastructure. When we go into the supermarket, we see cage-free eggs and free-range chicken products because enough consumers have cared enough to demand them; but sometimes it seems that not enough people care about the workers taking care of those chickens -- such as the unprotected assembly line workers who suffer lacerations, amputations, strains, sprains and crippling repetitive motion injuries at the hands of unscrupulous employers who put profit before safety.

It's time we work together to raise the level of awareness in our country -- to remind Americans at every turn that they need to be concerned for their workers, not just their chickens.

America doesn't need more refinery explosions, trench cave-ins or factory fires. We need more companies following the model of VPP, taking a leadership role, giving their workers a voice in their working conditions, and pursuing a culture of safety and health on the job every day of the year.

Until that day arrives when everyone makes worker protection a priority, let's work together -- VPPPA and OSHA -- to follow the battle cry of Mother Jones: "Mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living."


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