Charles N. Jeffress
National Construction Conference
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
November 17, 1998
- Andy Warhol said everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, and some achievements earn people
headlines. Others get little or no attention.
- An achievement's value cannot be judged by headlines alone. The real value must be
gauged by the positive impact on the lives of those it touches.
- Today Business Roundtable is recognizing construction companies that have excelled in
occupational safety and health. You've put safety first. Your commitment to doing the
right thing has paid off for everyone -- your company, your customers and your employees.
- What you know is a lesson far too many contractors have yet to learn: safety pays.
Employee safety and health is an integral component of building a bridge or putting a roof
on a skyscraper. It's not only possible -- it's profitable.
- Today, we're here to celebrate with those who have done right and done well as a result.
You have strong track records. We applaud your success, and we seek your support to
help move the rest of the industry forward.
- As a whole, the construction industry has made some significant progress. Overall injury
and illness rates have fallen. They've dropped below manufacturing for the third year in a
row. I commend you, and I encourage you to keep up the good work.
- But we all know there is still a way to go -- particularly with fatalities. More construction
workers die on the job than employees in any other field. Only 6 percent of Americans
work in construction, but 18 percent of our deaths occur there. About 1100 construction
workers lost their lives in 1997 -- an increase from 1996. Those numbers are headed in the
wrong direction, and we need to do something about it.
- Those of you in this room can help. You have the expertise and the commitment to take
the lead in reversing the upward trend on fatalities. As the owners or managers of major
construction sites in this country, you set the standard for safety. More than anyone else,
you can model best practices and expect others to follow your lead.
- Workers are counting on you to do that. OSHA has zeroed in on construction as one of
five industries where we want to help reduce injury, illness and fatality rates by 15 percent
over the next four years. We don't think that's an easy goal to meet. But it's not an
impossible dream, either. We have several strategies that we think will move us ahead.
- First, we are concentrating specifically on the causes of fatalities. In construction, the
leading causes are falls from elevations, electrical shock, being struck by machines or
materials and being crushed, such as in a trenching collapse or pinned under a vehicle that
has overturned. When we inspect a construction site, we will first look for a safety and
health program covering the entire site, including subcontractors. Then we will focus on
the four deadly hazards.
- We're also going to try to target the specific construction trades where the most fatalities
are occurring -- both for outreach and for inspections. Those include highway construction,
roofing, steel erection and electrical and mechanical trades
- Construction employers have long been required to adopt a safety and health program.
We want to see more of those programs covering the entire site. But in Fiscal Year 1998,
fewer construction sites qualified for a focused inspection than in FY 1997. Of 6,500
construction sites inspected this past year only about 1,800 had an effective program and
met the requirements for a focused OSHA inspection. Last year close to 2,000 qualified.
- This is an area where major contractors can make a difference. You award-winners are
here today because you have extraordinarily low injury and illness rates, which generally
reflect effective safety and health programs. Share your expertise. Demand the best from
your subs. Encourage others in the industry to do the same.
- We want to help you in that process by strengthening and clarifying the requirements for
safety and health programs in construction. The Advisory Committee on Construction
Safety and Health has provided OSHA with a draft of a construction safety and health
program proposal and will continue to advise us as we progress toward a proposal for
publication. 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.
- We're also emphasizing safety and health programs in other ways -- through consultation,
through Voluntary Protection Programs and through special construction partnerships.
OSHA believes that partnership programs offer an excellent way to improve workplace
safety and health. Currently, six construction companies with eight long-term maintenance
projects are participating in our Voluntary Protection Program, which recognizes
outstanding safety and health efforts. We also have four companies who have five long-term
building projects approved under VPP.
- We'd like to expand that opportunity to contractors with short-term projects. We've
established a demonstration project to do that, and two contractors have already been
accepted. We're looking for more companies for this pilot -- companies like those who are
being honored today.
- In addition, we have a number of special construction partnerships. Several of these were
featured last Friday at our partnership conference in Washington.
- For example, HomeSafe in our Denver region. Homebuilders who agree to establish a 10-point
safety and health program that covers hazards causing serious accidents qualify for a
variety of incentives including focused inspections and penalty reductions. The state of
Colorado also offers a 5-percent reduction in insurance premiums. HomeSafe began in
April and will run for three years. We expect about 300 homebuilders to participate, and
we hope to see significant declines in injuries and fatalities in homebuilding in the Denver
area as well as cost-savings for builders.
- The partnership conference also spotlighted the Roofing Industry Partnership, which
recognizes premier safety contractors in Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. Participating
contractors who demonstrate outstanding safety and health programs qualify for limited
scope inspections and penalty reductions. And we showcased SESAC, the steel erection
partnership in Colorado that implemented 100 percent fall protection and significantly cut
workers' comp costs for 38 contractors.
- Last spring I signed a partnering charter formalizing the cooperative relationship between
OSHA and AGC. That document is a statement of principles, symbolizing our
commitment to working together to improve safety and health on construction sites. I
would welcome the opportunity for a similar partnership with the Business Roundtable.
- I'd also like to find a way to focus on employers who need to improve. When we target
OSHA interventions, we need to zero in on employers who most need our help -- where
injuries and illnesses are highest. But it's difficult for us to do that right now in
construction. We don't have the company-specific data we need to pinpoint construction
employers with poor safety records. Improving targeting in construction remains a
priority for OSHA.
- I would like to come up with a leveraging and partnership option for focusing our
inspections in the construction industry, and I welcome your suggestions for how to do it.
- There is another dimension to partnership I'd like you to think about. In October, I
participated in the Joint EU/US Conference on Health and Safety at Work as part of a
U.S. delegation of 50 American business, labor and government leaders in occupational
safety and health. During our meetings with our European counterparts, I was struck by
the extensive consultation and collaboration that is part and parcel of their workplace
safety systems. When it comes to safety and health standards, they work to achieve
consensus on issues. Then their parliaments pass the standards as statutes. And statutes,
unless unconstitutional, are not subject to judicial challenge. No lawsuits!
- I would love to see that kind of cooperation in this country. It is difficult, however, when
all too often, even within a single company, safety and health professionals and
government affairs representatives seem to be on different wavelengths.
I find it disturbing when safety and health staffs are implementing effective measures to
control hazards while those who represent the same company in Washington are saying
OSHA should not be addressing the same issues -- from safety and health programs to
ergonomics. Corporations need to speak with one voice, and as safety and health
professionals you need to educate your government affairs representatives, and, in some
cases, your corporate officials. I want to help in this education and help American
business say the same things with their words in Washington that you are saying with your
actions in the workplace. I invite the Business Roundtable to help address this
schizophrenia that exists in many American corporations.
- Let me move on to give you a brief update on our standard-setting activities. The
proposed new standard for steel erection appeared in the Federal Register two months
ago, and the public hearing begins December 1 in Washington. As you know, the
proposal itself was developed by labor, management and public stakeholders through a
negotiated rulemaking process.
- For the first time, OSHA is accepting E-mail comments. The comments we receive
determine the final standard that we will publish. We understand that some contractors
have submitted information on their methodologies that go beyond the requirements set
forth in the proposal. I know that some of you have adopted more stringent requirements.
We would be interested in information on the results you have had with your own
- We also plan to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on fall protection. This
will be a series of questions designed to help OSHA gather information on the need to
develop a proposal for a revised standard. And I am particularly interested in taking
another look at fall protection issues in residential construction. I hope you will
participate in this process. All of OSHA's rules are based on information developed in the
public record, so we need you to share your expertise and experience with us.
- In addition, we're reviewing the new scaffold standard we issued in 1996. We had
planned to make some technical corrections. But stakeholders have asked us to address
additional issues as well. The first step will be an advance notice -- questions -- sometime
next year. Again, we need your input to help us refine this standard.
- We are also updating our recordkeeping requirements. We want to make our
recordkeeping forms, our definitions of work-related injury and illness and our instructions
much clearer. Accurate data are critical -- for OSHA and for employers and employees.
Reviewing workplace injury and illness data help businesses identify and solve problems.
OSHA also uses the data to target its interventions. We plan to publish new rules next
spring to take effect January 1, 2000.
- Another issue that concerns me greatly is musculoskeletal disorders, including the strains
and sprains that come from lifting and bending. OSHA is developing an ergonomics
proposal for general industry. While construction will not be covered during the first phase
of our ergonomics rulemaking, we will continue to work this area to pinpoint solutions to
the problems we know exist. ACCSH has appointed a musculoskeletal disorder subcommittee to
study this issue and develop recommendations. I welcome your ideas as well.
- As I look at workplace safety and health near the close of the 20th Century, I'm
encouraged by the incredible progress we've made. Sweatshops, dusty mills and hazard-littered
construction sites are no longer the norm. Workers who don protective gear are labeled sensible
and safety-conscious rather than belittled as sissies. And more men -- and women -- are coming
home to their families safe and sound at the end of the day.
- As head of OSHA, I want to see that progress continue. I know that's possible only
through cooperative efforts, through partnership. And I look forward to working with the
Business Roundtable to assure safe and healthful construction sites for those who build