"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
OSHA Policy Subcommittee
July 21, 1999
- If any of you came here today expecting me to talk about the top ten reasons why I love
my job, you're going to be disappointed. It's not because I couldn't think -- given enough
time -- of 10 reasons why I love my job. It's because I do love my job as the head of a
regulatory agency, and I want to talk about regulations, which perhaps are not your first
- Is there such a thing as a good regulation? Don't answer that question! But perhaps it
depends on your viewpoint.
- Ben Franklin once said, "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which
the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him as a destroyer
of liberty." I suspect that you and I each see ourselves as the shepherd, and the other as
- In the shepherd's view, the sheep are worth protecting at the expense of the wolf, who
goes hungry. This is a classic win-lose situation.
- And that is how many people seem to view OSHA regulations. Somebody-the
worker-wins. And somebody else-the employer-loses.
- I think that's a false picture and a false analogy. Employers aren't wolves looking to rip
up innocent sheep at every turn, watching out only for number one. Nor are workers
sheep-stupid and defenseless without a shepherd to guard them.
- Workplace safety and health regulations don't have to be win-lose. They can be win-win.
We can develop regulations that protect workers and benefit employers as well. And we
have a good track record to prove it.
- Take OSHA's cotton dust regulation, for example. In 1978, employers said it couldn't be
done. Then they turned around and did it. Textile mills reduced cotton dust exposures
and met the "impossible" limits OSHA found feasible. The result? Byssinosis-brown
lung-has been virtually eliminated among the 100,000 workers facing cotton dust
exposures 20 years ago. And productivity in textile mills has skyrocketed.
- But are regulations really necessary? Wouldn't the textile industry have reduced dust and
found efficiencies on its own? Won't smart employers address ergonomics and set up
safety and health programs just because it makes good business sense? Won't market
forces suffice? Can't employers handle this, perhaps with a little help from consultants?
- Certainly some businesses can. Some businesses will. But only about 30 percent of
- About half the 95 million workers who would be covered under an OSHA safety and
health program standard don't have that protection today. How long should we wait for
their employers to wake up to the fact that safety pays? Establishing a safety and health
program to protect employees is not only the right thing to do, it's the profitable thing to
do. Studies have shown a $4 to $6 return for every dollar invested in safety and health.
- But too many employers still haven't seen the light. OSHA has been talking about the
importance of safety and health programs for 28 years. We published guidelines more
than 10 years ago.
- The good news is that we've made progress in combating occupational accidents. You
know the numbers. The fatality rate has been cut in half since 1971. Injuries and illnesses
have been on a downward trend for the past five years.
- The bad news is that 6 million workers still experienced occupational injuries or illnesses
in 1997. And more than 6,000 died on the job. These tragedies cost our nation $170
billion every year.
- If every employer adopted an effective safety and health program, we could slash those
numbers. Just look at what the exemplary companies in our Voluntary Protection
Programs have done. Each year more than 500 workplaces, representing 180 industries,
are saving $110 million because they've reduced injury rates 50 percent below the average
for their industries.
- The elements necessary for an effective program are simple-management leadership;
employee participation; hazard assessment; hazard prevention and control; and
information and training. They're based on OSHA's 1989 guidelines and on the real-world experience of VPP companies. We're proposing a flexible, proven approach, and I
expect NAM to support that approach, even though you will undoubtedly oppose the
regulation simply because it is a regulation.
- Webster's defines a paradox as something with seemingly contradictory qualities. For me,
NAM provides an example of a paradox. You say a safety and health program regulation
is not needed. Yet you encourage your members to set up such programs.
- What irony! If safety and health programs aren't valuable, why do your members establish
them? And if the companies you represent have them, why shouldn't other businesses
take similar steps to protect their workers?
- I want to make my position absolutely clear. Establishing a safety and health program is
the single most important thing any employer can do to prevent workplace injuries and
illnesses. Before I leave office, I want an effective safety and health program to become a
fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country.
- Many of your member companies have demonstrated the value of safety and health
programs. I challenge you as an organization to change your tune. It's time to harmonize
with your practice. Let's take what the best of American business is doing and spread it
to the rest of business.
- I'd also like to see you adopt a more reasonable position on ergonomics. That's my other
top standard-setting priority. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders continue to
represent a very real and significant problem in our country. More than one-third of all
serious occupational injuries and illnesses stem from overexertion or repetition. That's
more than 600,000 each year. These injuries cost businesses $15 to $20 billion annually in
workers' comp costs alone. Have you heard these numbers before?
- Yet NAM's approach to ergonomics is similar to its stand on safety and health programs.
You put the principles into practice but preach against the proposed regulation. In fact,
you don't even want a proposal to reach a public forum for debate.
- The scientific and medical communities view the situation differently. Health and safety
professionals believe we need to delay no longer in addressing musculoskeletal disorders.
We've been urged to move forward with a standard by a long list of groups, including:
- the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,
- the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,
- the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses,
- the American Occupational Therapy Association
- the American Nurses Association,
- the American Public Health Association,
- the American Society of Safety Engineers,
- the American Industrial Hygiene Association,
- and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
- The science on workplace ergonomics has been repeatedly verified. More than 2,000
studies have been done in the past 75 years, including two literature reviews by the
prestigious National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National
Academy of Sciences. Both these organizations have concluded that there is clear
evidence that poor ergonomic conditions are causing injuries in the workplace and that
there are solutions that work.
- Congress has funded yet another study, to be completed in the Year 2001, and I welcome
that and the many other studies of ergonomic solutions that are underway. But what is
clear is that we know enough to act now. And we need to act now. We don't need to
wait another two years while 1.2 million more American workers experience these painful
and potentially disabling injuries.
- The bottom line is this: ergonomics programs work. You know that and I know that.
They reduce injuries. They improve employee morale. And they save money for
employers. Good ergonomics is good economics.
- I don't understand why that message is so difficult to understand here at 1331
Pennsylvania Avenue. It's clear to the scientists. It's clear to the doctors and the nurses.
It's clear to the safety and health professionals. And it's clear to workers and their
- Our ergonomics proposal is now at OMB for review. We expect to publish it in the
Federal Register this fall. I hope at that point you will provide constructive assistance to
help us craft a flexible, practical rule.
- As I said at the beginning, we want to take a win-win approach. I challenge you to drop
your no-win strategy of delaying debate on the merits of an OSHA ergonomics rule.
That's a losing approach-for employers and employees alike.
I urge you to play a productive, not a destructive, role in this process.
- About the same time we publish our ergonomics proposal, we will issue our final
recordkeeping standard. It will take effect in January 2000. States running their own
OSHA programs will issue comparable standards with the same start date so we can all
move forward together.
- The new rule will offer clearer definitions of work-relatedness, a better explanation of
what constitutes light duty and a much improved and simpler recordkeeping form. We
would welcome NAM's assistance in getting the word out to your members about the
changes in recordkeeping requirements.
- When it comes to OSHA, mega-penalties and controversies over proposed standards
make the news. But there's more to our agency than those high profile issues.
- Under the Clinton Administration, the agency has emphasized partnership. We've
increased by nearly five-fold the number of companies in VPP over the past seven years.
We've also developed a wide variety of other partnerships such as the vertical partnership
we have with ConAgra Refrigerated Foods-establishing effective safety and health
programs in every plant they own.
- We also have industry-specific partnerships such as SESAC for steel erectors in Colorado
and the Roofing Industry Partnership for contractors in Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.
C.A.R.E.-which stands for Construction Accident Reduction Emphasis -- is a construction
industry partnership established this spring to prevent fatalities in Florida.
- These cooperative partnerships typically include training and education and assistance in
establishing and evaluating safety and health programs. They leverage OSHA resources
while providing valuable assistance to employers that do not have full-time safety and
health staff. The key, of course, is that they reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace.
In fact, they have been so successful that I have directed every one of OSHA's 67 offices
around the country to establish one in their area.
- We also have worked on partnerships at the national level-with the Associated General
Contractors, for example. Would that we could find some common ground with the
National Association of Manufacturers that would nurture a partnership as well. If you're
willing, I'm willing.
- The new millennium is just around the corner. Over the past few years, we've been
caught up in a heady prosperity-the rise of the stock market, the drop in unemployment.
The news has been good, and consumer confidence and optimism are high in America.
- I'm optimistic that as we turn over the calendar for the Year 2000, we turn over a new
page in worker safety and health as well. My vision is unchanged. I still want every
worker to go home whole and healthy every day. And I hope the new standards we are
promulgating and the new partnerships we are forging will bring that vision closer to
reality in the century ahead.