"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
Food Industry Productivity Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
October 31, 1999
- Are you looking back or looking forward? As we approach the Year 2000, it
seems that every other story in the newspaper is a retrospective on the 1900's or a
futureworld piece on the century ahead.
- At OSHA, we're looking forward to the day when every worker goes home whole
and healthy. We've made progress toward this goal -- reducing fatalities by half
over the past 30 years. And injuries have been on a downward trend over the past
five years. Those trends hold true for food distribution as well, though there was a
slight increase in injuries and illnesses in 1997.
- Workplace safety and health is not a short-term mission. It's a long-term
proposition. And it requires daily diligence and ongoing commitment in the face
of competing priorities for time, energy and resources.
- When OSHA visits a worksite, we know that protecting workers is a top priority
there when we see an effective safety and health program. Every workplace needs
to take a systematic approach to preventing injuries and illnesses. This just makes
good business sense.
- Most companies can reduce injuries 20 to 40 percent by establishing a safety and
health program. Several studies have estimated that safety and health programs
save $4 to $6 for every dollar invested. Yet only about 30 percent of U.S.
worksites have established these programs.
- That makes no sense. My top priority is to encourage every American employer to
establish a safety and health program.
- We have developed a coordinated strategy to help employers and workers put a
high priority on safety and health. We call it New Ways of Working. Our four-pronged strategy includes strong enforcement, creative partnerships, expanded
outreach and training and improved rulemaking.
- Strong enforcement will always be a vital component of OSHA's effort to reduce
workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. Our goal is to refine our inspection
targeting system to focus on workplaces with the highest injury and illness rates.
Our approach must be firm. It must be fair. And it must zero in on those sites
where we can do the most good.
- This past spring, OSHA sent out letters to 12,000 businesses across the nation with
the highest injury and illness rates, based on our 1998 survey of about 80,000
worksites. More than 550 of those letters went to food distributors. Essentially,
we said to these folks, we've made a list, we've checked it twice, and you're on it!
- In addition to advising people they had made our list because of their high rates,
we encouraged them to take steps to improve -- to contact a private consultant, to
call their insurance company, to arrange a visit from the free state consultation
service. And above all, to establish a safety and health program.
- By the end of this year, federal compliance officers will inspect about 2,200 of
these sites -- beginning with those whose injury and illness rates are four times the
private sector average. These are the sites that need the help of an OSHA
inspector-and they will get it.
- But inspections alone will never be the answer. We need other options as well.
The second aspect of New Ways of Working is creative partnerships.
- Our premier partnership is the Voluntary Protection Program. The common
denominator among VPP sites are effective safety and health programs. VPP
companies demonstrate excellence in safety and health and reap significant savings
as a result of their efforts. Together 560 sites in 180 industries save $110 million
each year because they average 50 percent fewer injuries than their counterparts.
Among them are Aurora New City Packing Company in North Aurora, Illinois,
and Tropicana in Linden, New Jersey. I'd love to see more food distributors on
- OSHA is also involved in other partnerships such as the corporate partnership with
ConAgra Refrigerated Foods -- establishing effective safety and health programs in
every plant they own. The agency is working with the nursing home industry here
in the St. Louis area, and with bridge builders in West Virginia. We began a new
construction industry partnership earlier this year to prevent fatalities at
construction sites in Florida.
- These cooperative partnerships have proven so successful that I have directed
every one of OSHA's 66 offices around the country to establish one in their area.
- The third focus for OSHA, in conjunction with our partnerships, is expanding our
outreach and training. OSHA has never had full-time staff dedicated to teaching
employers and employees about safety and health, except for a small staff at the
OSHA Training Institute in Chicago. We deliver a lot of educational materials
over our Internet site, which is averaging 15 million hits per month. If you're not
using that resource, I urge you to sign on -- www.osha.gov.
- In addition, President Clinton has asked for an additional $12 million in OSHA's
budget for the Year 2000 to place full-time occupational safety and health training
and technical assistance staff in every federal OSHA office, something we've
never had. We want to become as well-known for our education and training as
we are for our enforcement. Of course, the budget situation is very much up in
the air at the moment. But I hope when all the dust has settled, we will have the
funding we need to make this investment.
- Finally, our fourth approach, is to improve rulemaking to meet the challenges of
the coming century. We need rules that protect workers. Rules that get updated
more often than once every 30 years. Rules that direct employers and employees
to ever-safer performance. Rules written simply enough for everyone to
- As I mentioned earlier, getting employers to establish safety and health programs
is my top priority. We've had voluntary guidelines for 10 years. The time has
come for a mandatory standard. The elements necessary for an effective program
are simple -- management leadership; employee participation; hazard assessment;
hazard prevention and control; and information and training. These are the
elements that have been proven effective by the outstanding companies in our VPP
program. They've also been demonstrated to work in companies that started with
high injury and illness rates.
- If you have a good program in place already, that's great. Our proposed safety and
health program standard will include a grandfather clause for effective programs.
- We plan to publish our proposal early next year. We welcome your comments and
suggestions so that we can produce an effective, practical standard that makes
sense for all employers.
- My second high priority standard is ergonomics. I know this issue is very
important to food distributors. Ergonomics has been a pretty hot topic in
Washington this fall, and I've gone toe to toe with your association and some of
your members. It's not really a new issue. OSHA has been concerned about
work-related musculoskeletal disorders for two decades.
- But we can no longer wait to address this problem. More than one-third of all
serious occupational injuries and illnesses stem from overexertion or repetitive
motion. That's more than 600,000 each year.
- We are not talking about sore wrists or stiff muscles here. We are talking about
conditions so serious that they require time away from work. Real people, real
- These injuries cost businesses $15 to $20 billion annually in workers' comp costs
alone. Add indirect costs, and the yearly total mounts as high as $60 billion. And
you know and I know that you wouldn't be paying these costs if the injuries
- After years of research, we have the scientific evidence and the backing of the
scientists and medical community to move forward now. The 1997 NIOSH study
and the 1998 National Academy of Sciences study verify that sound scientific
evidence links back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and other MSDs to work.
We know that higher physical stress leads to greater likelihood of injury and that
interventions -- ergonomics programs -- can reduce the risk of injury.
- Even though Congress last year agreed it wasn't necessary, some have wanted
OSHA to wait for a second Academy study. I don't believe we need to do that.
Neither does Dr. William Howell who chaired the first NAS study. Furthermore,
no study will ever be sufficient for those whose instinctive reaction is to oppose all
government regulations. Additional studies are welcome, but they are unlikely to
alter the firm conclusions reached by the previous ones. Musculoskeletal disorders
are related to work and changing the work environment or altering the way tasks
are done can reduce the risk of injury. That's the bottom line, and it's time we
acted on that knowledge.
- There's no need to see more workers needlessly hurt, more careers cut short, more
workers' comp claims paid. These are real problems. But real solutions are
- It's time we moved ergonomics from the best companies to the rest of the
companies. We can draw from the practical experience of companies with
successful ergonomics programs. Companies like 3M, Ford Motor Company,
Kraft Foods and Fieldcrest Cannon.
- Food distributors have also succeeded in protecting workers, boosting productivity
and cutting costs. One of the best examples is a food services distributor -- Sysco
Food Services' Houston branch. In 1996, we inspected Sysco in Houston and
issued a $7,500 penalty for posture and lifting hazards. That year the Houston
branch had 201 injuries with 3,638 lost workdays. Back injuries accounted for
almost 40 percent of the injuries and more than half the total cost.
- Under the direction of a new occupational health nurse, Sysco in Houston
formalized the ergonomics program it had recently begun at the time of our
inspection. Just one year later, injuries and illnesses had dropped 25 percent, and
the cost of cases was down by more than 45 percent. For the first eight months of
the Sysco Houston's fiscal year 1999, total costs are down to about a quarter of the
1996 total. Major back injuries dropped from 76 to 21.
- This sounds like an overnight success. Not really. Sysco put in a lot of hard work
investing in early return to work for injured employees, ergonomics committees,
employee surveys, job analysis and medical management. This distributor
demonstrated its concern for workers by encouraging them to report symptoms
early to nip problems in the bud.
- Sysco also invested in other changes. The company re-racked its warehouse. It
put brakes on handtrucks. It issued new shoes with better traction to all warehouse
and delivery staff. The company also requested -- and got -- changes in packaging
from suppliers -- smaller bags, handles on packages, sturdier cardboard and lighter
boxes. All of these little changes added up to a big difference.
- It's clear that ergonomic programs work -- in food distribution and other industries.
They reduce injuries. They improve employee morale. And they save money for
- We will be publishing our ergonomics program proposal very soon. I challenge
you to work with us to get this rule right. I want to strongly encourage you to
participate in the comment period and hearings we will be holding beginning in
February. Tell us about your experience with ergonomics. Work with us to write
the best possible standard that will help your business and others address the
musculoskeletal injuries that are affecting them.
- OSHA is also moving ahead on other rules. Early next year, we will issue our
final recordkeeping rule. We want to give employers the training and support they
need to help them make the transition to the new system. So the new rule will go
into effect in January 2001.
- I think you will be pleased with the changes we've made. 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.
- Perhaps one of the most important rules for food distributors and grocers is one
that's already on the books -- that's the requirement for training for powered
industrial truck operators. The rules for the trucks themselves have posed
somewhat of a problem in your industry. In Fiscal Year 1998, we found violations
of powered industrial truck standards at about one-third of the food distributors
that we inspected. In terms of numbers, these violations were number two on the
list, just behind hazard communication violations. But fork lift violations resulted
in penalties ten times higher than hazard communication citations. This may be
something you need to review carefully at your site.
- The key to the new requirements for training for fork lift operators is very simple.
The training must be equipment-specific and site-specific. Just because you can
drive a car, operate a bulldozer or handle a Harley doesn't mean you're ready to
take over the controls of a fork lift. And operating a fork lift truck in a freezer is
different from moving bricks on a construction site. That's just common sense. If
you haven't yet reviewed your program for training forklift and other industrial
truck drivers, I urge you to do so soon.
- Much of safety and health is common sense -- and remaining steadfast in our
determination to keep safety front and center. To do that, we need to employ all
our resources. For OSHA, that means embracing partnership and outreach as
complements to enforcement. It means finding ways to leverage our resources and
focus on the workplaces that really need our attention. It means seeking to
improve our rulemaking process, focus on the most critical issues and involve
people earlier in developing rules.
- We have yet to reach our goal, but I believe we're moving in the right direction
with our new ways of working. And according to an ancient Buddhist proverb, "If
we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking." The
key to success is persistence -- taking one step after another toward our goal of
providing a safe workplace for every working American.
- To stand still is to fall behind. We cannot do that. We must move forward. And
we cannot stop until every worker goes home whole and healthy every day.