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• Information Date: 10/25/2010
• Speaker: David Michaels

Remarks Prepared For
Dr. David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health

Steel Manufacturers Association Safety Committee Meeting
Arlington, VA
Monday, October 25, 2010

Greetings

Thanks to SMA President Tom Danjczek and your Committee Chair Mike Taylor for inviting me to speak with you.

OSHA appreciates how hard SMA has made worker safety and health a priority while rebuilding its industry to survive in a tough, competitive global economy.

Topics at this committee meeting — ergonomics, combustible dust, supervisor accountability in safety, crane issues, and fatality prevention — are all important and laudable. Your focus on prevention is the kind of 21st century thinking that's needed for a 21st century steel industry.

OSHA is likewise adapting to changing times by returning to the original intent of the OSH Act and focusing on standards and enforcement, and by looking at broader issues that can help transform modern workplaces by establishing a culture of safety and health.

In the short time we have together today, I'll speak to you about a major initiative that has the potential to transform workplaces across America, and about a troubling trend in some workplaces that we can work together to correct. I understand that some of you have expressed an interest in knowing the status of a combustible dust standard, and we'll get to that, too. Then I'll stop talking and let you ask me some questions.

Injury and Illness Prevention Programs

This spring OSHA announced a new regulatory effort that would require employers to implement an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program tailored to hazards in their workplaces.

This represents a fundamental change in how employers think about worker safety. Instead of waiting for a government inspection or a workplace tragedy to address workplace hazards, employers would be required to develop a comprehensive, effective plan to find the safety and health hazards in their facilities that might injure or kill workers -- and then fix those hazards.

The regulation would require employers to take an active approach to ensure healthful and safe working conditions -- focusing on all recognized hazards, not merely ones covered by OSHA standards.

The thousands of best workplaces in America that already have Injury and Incentive Programs -- such as VPP participants -- have seen the beneficial results for themselves. They enjoy higher efficiency, greater worker productivity and lower costs that make their workplaces more profitable and competitive.

These programs level the playing field in both domestic and global markets, allowing responsible employers to survive whether the economy is in a surge or in a slump.

But -- these programs work only when they give workers a voice and a role in the process of making workplaces safer and more healthful. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs fail if workers aren't at the table as full participants.

OSHA has concluded five stakeholder meetings around the country with significant participation by employers and unions. We are eager to move to rulemaking on this critical issue.

Incentive Programs

OSHA is concerned about certain kinds of workplace safety incentive and discipline programs. When these programs are based primarily on injury and illness numbers, they often have the effect of discouraging workers from reporting an injury or illness.

We strongly disapprove of programs offering workers parties and prizes for not reporting injuries, or bonuses for managers that drive down injury rates, or that discipline workers for reporting an injury.

The president of a big petroleum company contacted OSHA a while ago when he saw a letter circulated to workers by a contractors building one of his refineries. This "safety letter" from the contractor said, in essence, "If you get injured on the job -- you're fired" and "If you're a supervisor and one of your workers gets hurt on the job, you're fired, too!" The manager saw this letter and had the good sense to call me -- for which I'm grateful -- and told me he was going to get the contractor to rescind this policy because it doesn't encourage safe work practices, it only makes workers afraid to report their injuries, and that's not what we want.

When programs discourage workers from reporting injuries or illnesses: problems stay concealed, no investigations take place, nothing is learned or corrected, workers remain exposed to harm.

We do support programs that reward workers for demonstrating safe work practices, reporting hazards or close calls, participating in safety and health training, or serving on a workplace safety and health committee.

I was very pleased when a major worker safety organization, the Voluntary Prevention Programs Participants' Association, announced earlier this month that it supports OSHA's position that workplace safety and health incentive programs must not encourage underreporting of injuries and illnesses. Davis Layne, VPPPA's executive director, concurred with OSHA that "good incentive programs feature positive reinforcement for demonstrating safe work practices and taking active measures in hazard recognition, analysis and prevention."

So the thing to remember is this: OSHA will not tolerate programs that provide negative reinforcement.

Accurate Reporting

Because accurate reporting is an essential tool for employers and OSHA to detect problems in workplaces that are placing workers in danger, last October OSHA launched a National Emphasis Program on recordkeeping.

As of Oct. 1, 2010, OSHA has initiated 187 inspections under the NEP. Almost half the inspections conducted so far found recordkeeping violations. The NEP is scheduled to run through February 2012.

A few weeks ago we fined an irresponsible employer $1.2 million for 83 willful citations for failing to record and for improperly recording work-related injuries and illnesses.

The lesson learned here is: Don't "cook the books"!

Combustible Dust

Some of you asked me to say a few words about the status of a combustible dust standard for workplaces.

I'll start by noting that fires and explosions fueled by combustible dusts have long been recognized as a major industrial hazard. This isn't a new hazard. A November 2006 Chemical Safety Hazard Investigation Board report described nearly 280 dust fires and explosions in U.S. industrial facilities over the past quarter-century, resulting in 119 worker deaths and more than 700 injuries. This was before the massive sugar dust explosion in February 2008 at an Imperial Sugar facility in Georgia where 14 workers were killed and many more injured.

OSHA's enforcement of regulations and statutes, combined with education and outreach, is helping to protect the safety and health of workers exposed to combustible dust hazards.

In October 2007 OSHA initiated a National Emphasis Program to inspect facilities that generate or handle combustible dusts that pose an explosion or other fire hazard.

Although presently OSHA does not have a specific standard on combustible dust hazards, several existing OSHA standards apply to combustible dust handling facilities. Our NEP focuses on these standards, as well as the General Duty Clause.

Our NEP targets 64 types of industries. In three years we have found nearly 9,100 violations at inspected facilities -- and not only combustible dust-related violations, but also violations such as lockout/tagout, walking/working surfaces, and other hazards.

Initial penalties under both Federal and State enforcement totaled more than $19.5 million

Under the NEP, we have conducted about 270 inspections of primary and other metal industry facilities – so far!

Our inspections around the country have uncovered dangerous accumulations of dust from pulverized metal, wood, plastic, rubber, chemicals and other materials. In several instances, we found combustible dust accumulations ankle deep and covering an entire room.

Earlier this year in a rubber products factory in Georgia, OSHA cited the company for numerous serious safety and health violations related to a combustible dust transport system made of non-conductible PVC piping, and poor housekeeping of carbon black combustible dust.

At a factory in Ohio that processes an animal feed supplement, OSHA conducted a health inspection in June after receiving information that fires had occurred in the plant. We found large amounts of dust from the manufacturing process had accumulated throughout the worksite. We issued 4 willful violations for a lack of explosion protection, failure to equip process equipment with combustible dust collection systems, allowing hazardous accumulations of dust, and using electrical equipment that was unsafe in areas with combustible dust accumulation. We also issued 5 serious violations addressing hazards from workers breathing the dust, allowing combustible materials in areas where workers were welding, and unsafe electrical equipment and practices. The proposed health violation fines came to nearly $270,000.

Here's an interesting finding: In 80 percent of our NEP citations under the General Duty Clause, we found a single, dominant problem: Dust collectors were located inside buildings without proper explosion protection systems -- such as suppression systems or venting to a safe, outside area.

... And the most prominently cited violation under the NEP was simple housekeeping -- keeping the dust accumulation under control.

So, you now have a good idea what our inspectors are going to be looking for!

In October 2009, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a combustible dust standard. Since then, we have held stakeholder meetings in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, and the first-ever on-line "virtual meeting" in June 2010. We are conducting site visits to help gather data for this rulemaking. We expect to initiate a SBREFA panel next spring to obtain input from the small business sector.

The challenge we face with this rulemaking is the large scope of coverage. There is great diversity in the types of workplaces, processes and degree of potential explosions from the dusts generated in various facilities. Many have commented that, when it comes to developing a combustible dust standard, "One size doesn't not fit all"; however, there are common factors that, if controlled, would likely reduce the risk of explosion, burns and death.

To save lives, this rulemaking effort is worth pursuing.

Conclusion

OSHA us focusing on fair and effective standards and enforcement to save workers' lives.

Also high on OSHA's agenda: insisting on accurate reporting, welcoming positive incentive programs, and promoting prevention through injury and illness programs that give voice to workers and encourage cooperation.

OSHA is also pursing outreach to the most vulnerable workers -- immigrants with limited literacy who need to understand their rights and how to exercise them. These workers must receive training in a language and vocabulary that they can understand.

Training -- with the help of Harwood grants and compliance assistance -- produces more informed workers. Informed workers are safer, healthier, more efficient and more productive workers.

My challenge to all of you is: Stay informed, get involved, make your voices heard, be part of the process and part of the solution.

One thing I can tell you is that I love success stories. If your company has a best practices or other story to tell about how you are making your worksites safe, write to me and tell me your story. I might use it when I speak to other groups to demonstrate how everyone has good ideas that we can share.

Also tell me if we could be helping you more.

Let's stay in touch and learn from each other.

Thank you. I'll be happy to take your questions now.


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