Charles N. Jeffress
"EPA Customer Service"
November 30, 1999
- Who is our customer? If we want to serve customers well, we must know who
they are. So, who are our customers?
- In one sense, EPA's customers are everyone who drinks water or breathes the air.
In that same sense, OSHA's customers are half of all Americans-everyone who's
working. For all practical purposes, every man, woman and child in the U.S. has a
stake in clear water, clean air and safety in the workplace.
- Department store owner John Wanamaker reportedly said, "The customer is
always right." That approach makes sense for a business. A company that wants
to build an unparalleled reputation for service may be willing to stand the loss
when a customer really isn't right. But it won't work for a regulatory agency.
- Because fully pleasing one customer inevitably leads to displeasing another. And
when our goal is simply pleasing the customer standing in front of us, we have
failed to serve our true customer-the American public.
- However, even if we can't please every one of our customers, we need to provide
good service. We need to be fair and impartial, and we need to be prompt in
responding to customer requests, concerns and complaints.
- Of course, sometimes it seems as if we can't please anyone. EPA and OSHA are
the regulators everyone loves to hate. We're reviled and ridiculed at the same time.
Just whispering our name brings money into the coffers of half the trade
associations in Washington. My favorite OSHA myth, that we're still trying to
dispel, is the rumor that OSHA killed the tooth fairy by saying dentists couldn't
give kids the teeth they pulled.
- Yet others, including Ralph Nader, take us to task for not conducting more
inspections, issuing more citations, proposing more penalties. They suggest that
we are toothless tigers, no longer up to the task of enforcing the law. Too strong
or too weak? Too timid or too aggressive? Or both at the same time!
- No one loves a regulator! Part of the problem is that costs and benefits appear to
accrue to different groups. When it comes to occupational safety and health, most
people think the benefits accrue to workers and their families while the costs are
borne by employers. That's only partly true. The reality is that a safe workplace
benefits employers as much as it does employees.
- A safe workplace is a more productive workplace. Workers know they are valued.
That makes it easier to attract and retain employees-and when unemployment sits
at 30-year lows, that's vital.
- Safety provides bottom line benefits as well. Our studies have shown that
employers get a $4 to $6 return on every $1 they spend on safety and health.
- Environmental costs and benefits are no doubt similar. We all enjoy clean water,
fresh air and a beautiful view. In a very real sense, we are all stakeholders in the
environment. And while business may be in the vanguard for restoring and
maintaining the environment, we all have a role to play-recycling, conserving
energy, using mass transportation or carpooling. And we all reap the benefits.
- Indeed, convincing the American public of its corporate stewardship of the
environment through individual daily actions is one of EPA's greatest success
stories. You've transformed our culture. Re-cycling and energy conservation
have become cultural norms in only one generation.
- Yet, we often find, while our outreach efforts are welcomed, our regulatory actions
are not universally admired. In part, that's because some people feel left out of the
regulatory process. That's what we learned through our Customer Satisfaction
- We in OSHA have prided ourselves on our efforts to involve our stakeholders in
developing regulations. Yet we learned from the customers surveyed on our
behalf--safety and health professionals--that many of them felt left out of the
process. That doesn't make sense to us. We know we keep them informed. We
know we encourage their participation. And their professional organizations have
shared comments with us in virtually every OSHA rulemaking. But the perception
among the individuals we surveyed is that they would welcome more direct
involvement with OSHA in its rulemaking.
- So we need to address that perception. Next week our senior managers will be
gathering for a special retreat. And one of the most important topics will be our
communications strategy--our outreach to safety and health professionals and
others throughout the U.S. Involving professional, trade and union groups is not
enough. We need to reach individuals directly.
- The survey reminds us that communication with our customers must be a two-way
street. One source of feedback we've found helpful is our advisory committees.
We have special committees for maritime and construction, and we have an overall
advisory committee focusing on occupational safety and health across industry
sectors. These committees provide feedback on rules we're developing, review
our strategic plan and weigh in on other issues.
- Another committee I've personally found helpful is the Vice President's Advisory
Committee on Excellence in Customer Satisfaction. This is a forum for creative
ideas that are working in government. The committee raises troubling questions,
then provides intelligent discussion. With members drawn from private and public
organizations, it is a useful place to get new ideas, test them out and get
reinforcement for the important work of customer satisfaction.
- The Internet also has been an excellent tool for us to serve our customers. All of
our regulations appear on the site, as well as inspection instructions for our field
staff, publications, news releases and links to other materials. We also have
special interactive software we've developed called "compliance advisors." These
software packages walk our customers through some of the more complicated
OSHA standards-helping them determine whether they're covered and what they
need to do.
- We've also developed a special page for small business to help them get the
information they need. Can't find it on the website? Push a button to contact our
small business liaison Art DeCoursey to get the help you need. Personal attention
and hand-holding-rare commodities in bureaucracies and fast-paced Washington.
Our liaison may refer small businesses to one of our local offices or to our free
consultation service for face-to-face help.
- We are attempting to better serve small businesses in many ways. The SBREFA
process is one, of course. In addition, last spring we held a national small business
forum to describe OSHA services for small businesses. Since then we've held
eight similar regional forums. And we're planning another national session next
spring that will focus on specific issues of interest to small businesses, such as
- We're also looking at developing partnerships that benefit small businesses.
We're now talking with Home Depot about including OSHA safety information in
the quarterly training sessions they hold for small contractors. We're planning to
begin with a pilot project in Texas. Small contractors are hard for us to reach. So
this partnership will give us a unique opportunity to get information to them.
- One of the customer service problems we face as regulatory agencies is that the
regulatory process and subsequent enforcement activity have been viewed
primarily as an adversarial proceeding-a win-lose proposition.
- We need to help the customers we deal with every day-as well as the general
public-rethink that mindset. We're moving in that direction. Our compliance
officers are being trained to help employers analyze safety and health systems and
give advice on how to improve safety performance. The advice is free, voluntary,
and employers are free to take it or leave it. But our folks are providing
suggestions that help employers do a better job-and employers appreciate it.
- We could do our job without those extras-just come in and run down the checklist.
But we serve our customers-including the taxpayers-better when we focus on
what the employer is doing right and what could be better-even if there's no
violation of OSHA standards with the current set-up.
- OSHA is in the midst of a paradigm shift that began with the NPR reinvention
process and is continuing through GPRA. We've got a firm grip on our
mission-sending every worker home whole and healthy every day-and now we're
getting a GRIP on new ways of working to achieve that goal.
- Part of that approach is signified by the acronym GRIP-getting results and
improving performance. It's part of our strategy for delivering performance-based
results and achieving the goals in our strategic plan. We've given our local offices
training in problem-solving and the breakthrough process. With these tools,
they've addressed local problems and formed partnerships. This is a pro-active
approach based on local needs and local experience. We're planning to include the
same training we provided each area office for each new OSHA employee.
- Part of our new paradigm involves viewing employers and employees as potential
partners. We've been expanding partnership opportunities-primarily at the local
level. Sometimes these partnerships are industry-based, such as steel erection in
Colorado, poultry processing in Georgia or the construction industry in Florida.
Or they may cut across a variety of industries like the LeHigh Valley Partnership
in Pennsylvania and the Cowtown partnership in Texas. Virtually all of our
partnerships include outreach and training and a commitment on the part of
individual worksites to develop effective safety and health programs.
- OSHA has had a partnership program for the best of the best-the Voluntary
Protection Program-for more than 17 years. VPP recognizes exemplary
employers that establish effective safety and health programs. Together the 570
employers in these programs are saving $110 million each year thanks to 50
percent fewer injuries. Star employers serve as models-and in some cases
mentors-for others in their industries of how to do it right.
- They also help OSHA in many other ways. They lend us their employees to serve
as Special Government Employees and join us on VPP evaluation teams. They
help train our compliance officers. They testify before Congress and at public
hearings during our standard-setting process. This partnership has proven to be a
valuable resource for us and a source of recognition and pride for the participants.
- Our focus on partnership is an excellent way to leverage our resources and better
serve our customers. But increasing partnerships does not mean abandoning
enforcement. Far from it. In fact, we're now doing better by our customers with
our enforcement strategy. The key to improved inspection targeting has been
better data. In the past, we targeted employers based on high hazards within
- For a long time, Congress and others have urged us to focus on the individual sites
with poor records. And we're now doing that. Since 1996, we've been collecting
occupational injury and illness data each year from 80,000 individual sites.
- We use the data for targeting inspections and alerting employers to their high
injury rates. Each year, we will send letters to about 12,000 employers with the
worst records. In addition to advising people they made our list because of their
high rates, we encourage 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, OSHA inspectors will inspect about 2,200 of these
sites-beginning with those whose injury and illness rates are four times the private
sector average. Focusing our inspections is also part of serving our customers.
We must see that employees most at risk receive the protection they need. We
want to ensure that employers most in need of OSHA help get it. And we serve
the American taxpayer well by spending our resources wisely.
- There's another aspect to customer service that we all need to address-and that's
our internal customers. If we don't communicate well within our own agencies,
how can we hope to communicate to the broader communities we serve?
- This is an area that we've begun to work on within OSHA. When we surveyed our
own people more than a year ago, we found that they were not all on board in
terms of OSHA's approach to its mission. We've gone back and revisited this
issue in small groups, and next week we'll be asking our senior managers to take
another look at communicating our vision.
- Peter Drucker has said, "To satisfy the customer is the mission and purpose of
every business." I believe customer satisfaction is an important component of
government service. That doesn't mean trying to please every person every time,
especially for regulatory agencies.
- But we can still regulate with professionalism and inspect with courtesy. Even if
our customers aren't happy with the results, we want them to respect the services
- This means making progress toward our goals-reducing injuries and illnesses and
deaths in the workplace-or improving the quality of our environment.
- It means that those who contact us have a right to prompt answers and fair
treatment. Those who complain need to be heard. Those who want a seat at the
table need the opportunity to participate in rulemaking. Those who seek
information should get it.
- The Postal Service has it right-"We deliver for you." That's the commitment we
need to make as federal agencies and as individual civil servants. That's what
customer service is all about.
- I know we in OSHA still have a ways to go to achieve the goals we want. I
commend you in EPA for convening this conference to address how you will
approach the topic. I look forward to learning from you what succeeds for EPA as
we both seek to deliver even better services to the citizens of our country.