Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 10/31/1999
• Presented To: Food Industry Productivity Convention & Exposition
• Speaker: Jeffress, Charles N.
• Status: Archived

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

"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
& Exposition
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 that list.
  • 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 understand.
  • 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 injuries.
  • 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 weren't job-related!
  • 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 available.
  • 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 employers.
  • 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.

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents