"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."
Charles N. Jeffress
American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees
Regional Safety and Health Conference
June 12, 1999
- As a federal employee and a former state employee, I feel at home among AFSCME members.
I appreciate where you are coming from and what you are trying to do. I also feel welcome
thanks to Jordan Barab, formerly with AFSCME. He's been a most helpful addition to our
team at OSHA, and we appreciate your sending him our way.
- Every worker has the right to a safe and healthful workplace. That's what the Occupational
Safety and Health Act says. But for some public employees, safety and health on the job is a
privilege rather than a right. That's because if their agencies won't do the right thing, they have
nowhere to turn. Many, like those in Pennsylvania or Delaware, are not covered by federal or
state OSHA programs.
- President Clinton and Vice President Gore want to change that. If you work for the
government-federal, state or local-you shouldn't have less protection than someone doing the
same job for a private employer. If anything, government should set an example. It's time to
give public employees first class treatment instead of second class citizenship!
- Government employees operate heavy equipment, care for mentally ill and handicapped
patients, service water and sewer facilities, maintain park and wilderness areas and keep order
in prisons. Government workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals. Some of us have jobs
that require repetitive motions or heavy lifting. Some may be threatened by dangerous animals
or criminals with guns.
- Safety and health on the job is a serious issue. It's not a minor matter to be delegated to the
least senior staffer and relegated to a dusty manual at the bottom of a bookshelf. We need to
give safety and health protection for public sector workers the serious attention it deserves.
- OSHA now covers postal workers. That's a step in the right direction. But we need to go
further. Congressman Andrews on February 23 introduced the "Fairness for State and Local
Workers Act" to see that all state, county and municipal workers are covered by OSHA. On
March 17, Senators Wellstone and Kennedy introduced the "Federal Employees Safety
Enhancement Act" to extend full OSHA coverage to all federal workers. Public employees
deserve the same rights that private sector workers enjoy!
- The workplace has changed significantly during the 20th Century. We've moved from an
agrarian economy to an industrial economy to a service-based, technology-driven, information-age economy. Many of the old hazards remain with us. But we also must address emerging
issues among high tech workers and service providers.
- One of the issues that has come to the forefront over the past decade is work-related
musculoskeletal disorders. Each year more than 600,000 U.S. workers suffer serious injuries
as a result of overexertion or repetitive motion on their jobs. These injuries are painful and
require a long time for recovery. Some will result in lifelong disability.
- I've talked with workers who continue to suffer from work-related musculoskeletal disorders
long after their initial diagnosis. Severely injured workers may never be able to return to their
jobs. They may not even be able to handle simple, every day tasks. Some can't comb their
hair, pick up a baby, push a shopping cart or reach for a book on a high shelf.
- These injuries are not inevitable. They're not just a part of growing older. They don't have to
happen. And they're not caused by playing tennis or golf on the weekends.
- They're not cheap either -- for workers or their employers. They cost business $15 to $20
billion each year in workers' compensation costs alone. The cost to workers can be even
higher -- their livelihoods and the simple pleasures of everyday life.
- Now is the time for us to move forward with an ergonomics standard. We want employers to
develop ergonomics programs to protect workers at high risk of developing work-related
- Some have charged a lack of "sound science" linking musculoskeletal disorders to work.
Baloney! NIOSH analyzed 600 ergonomic studies in 1997. In 1998, the National Academy
of Sciences verified the connection, concluding that the greater the physical stress, the greater
the likelihood of injury. Further, the Academy pointed out that most people face their main
exposure to physical stresses, such as heavy lifting and repetitive motion, on their jobs. Most
important the Academy noted that reducing physical stress on the job reduces the risk of
- In other words, interventions work. Ergonomics programs work.
- Unfortunately, some would rather study the problem forever rather than adopt the solutions
already proven successful. More than 140 representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of
Congressman Blunt's bill to stop OSHA's ergonomics standard. Senator Bond has 35 co-sponsors in the Senate on a similar bill. We cannot let them succeed.
- Another study will support the findings and conclusions of the earlier NIOSH and NAS
evaluations, which critics refused to accept as definitive. And those who are adamantly
opposed to an OSHA ergonomics standard won't support the findings of the second NAS
review they're insisting on. To our critics, it didn't matter what the Academy found last year.
It didn't matter what NIOSH found before that. And the next study won't matter either. The
naysayers have never seen a regulation they like, and they are determined to stop this one. We
cannot simply stand by for two more years while a million more workers experience work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
- You know, and I know, it's time to move forward. Ergonomics programs work. They prevent
painful injuries. They reduce costs. They increase productivity. And this administration is
determined to make effective ergonomics programs the law of the land. With AFSCME's help,
we will succeed.
- OSHA is working to address other health issues that affect public employees as well. We need
to better protect the 5.6 million healthcare workers at risk for needlesticks. More than half a
million of them experience needlesticks each year. Those injuries can lead to deadly
bloodborne illnesses such as AIDS and hepatitis.
- We received nearly 400 responses when we asked last fall for information on preventing
needlesticks. The data were clear: Safer needle devices mean fewer sticks. But not enough
healthcare facilities are using these improved devices.
- Just purchasing a box of updated syringes is not sufficient, commentors told us. Employees
must be involved in choosing the devices, establishing safer work practices and training fellow
workers to take advantage of the new technology.
- OSHA has adopted a three-pronged approach to address this health concern. We've
proposed changes in our recordkeeping rule that will require employers to record injuries
resulting from contaminated needles and sharps. We'll publish a final recordkeeping rule this
- We will also revise our bloodborne pathogens compliance directive to reflect the newer and
safer technologies now available. And finally, we will take steps to amend the bloodborne
pathogens standard by placing needlestick and sharps injuries on our regulatory agenda this fall.
Together, these measures will serve to increase the use of safer devices and lower the risk of
needlesticks for healthcare workers.
- Another issue for many healthcare workers is potential exposure to tuberculosis. We proposed
a standard covering workplace exposure to TB in October 1997. As you know, one of the
controversial issues in this rulemaking has been the feasibility and scope of coverage for
workers at shelters for the homeless.
- Toward that end, next week we will re-open the tuberculosis record for 45 days to introduce
the findings of a study on tuberculosis in homeless shelters. We're also seeking public comment
on recommendations from AFSCME and others to expand coverage to parole and probation
workers and to include all social workers under the standard. We expect to publish the final
TB standard next spring.
- On another front, we are addressing the issue of personal protective equipment. The
Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission ruled last year that it was unclear who
should pay for PPE, employees or employers. OSHA has proposed to clarify its original
intention that employers must pay for this equipment unless it is prescription glasses or steel-toed shoes. The comment period on this proposal is open now, and the hearing will be on
- Another area of great concern to you and to OSHA is traffic safety. The leading cause of death
on the job in the U.S. is traffic events. AFSCME has one of OSHA's Susan Harwood
Training Grants to train workers involved with highway construction in hazard identification and
- While OSHA will not be regulating over-the-road vehicles, we are particularly concerned about
safety in highway construction work zones. This affects not only construction workers but
those public employees who may be inspecting the job to verify that the work is proceeding as
- In one case, in my home state of North Carolina, a state Department of Transportation worker
was spray-painting markings to show where barrels should go to protect construction workers
for the next day's work. But there was no barrier between the worker and the traffic and the
worker was facing away from oncoming vehicles. He was struck and killed by a driver who
moved out of the travel lane to pass several trucks. He was one of about 700 workers killed
last year in construction work zones.
- Safety in highway construction work zones is going to be increasingly important as our nation
spends $200 billion over the next four years to fix our roadways. With all the additional work,
as many as 1,000 private and public sector workers could die if we don't actively work to
prevent these deaths.
- The Department of Transportation will be taking the lead and working with the National Safety
Council to address this issue. We've agreed to assist with this project. We need to alert the
motoring public and workers who spend time in construction zones to the risks and how to
- Public sector workers provide the services that build our communities. You teach children,
fight fires, nurse veterans, catch crooks, maintain parks and manage the details of our life
together. You're protecting and defending our mutual interests as citizens.
- We will defend your personal interests as well-as workers entitled to a safe and healthful
working environment. Federal OSHA may not yet cover you. But we're working for you as
we develop standards, conduct outreach and education programs and identify opportunities for
- We appreciate the support AFSCME has given OSHA over the years -- and in some cases
some pretty strong prodding. You pushed us to develop standards on ethylene oxide,
bloodborne pathogens and tuberculosis. You pressed us to create workplace violence
guidelines. And in each case you provided comments and helpful information to support the
need for action on OSHA's part.
- Don't stop now. There's so much more we need to do. And we need your help to do it.
- We want every worker to go home whole and healthy every day. Municipal sanitation
workers, city firefighters, county teachers, state highway patrol officers and federal
environmental planners are all part of this vision. Working with your union, the President, Vice
President Gore, Secretary Herman and OSHA are committed to making this vision a reality.