Charles N. Jeffress
10th Annual Construction
Construction Safety Council
February 16, 2000
- As we begin the next millennium, what could be more appropriate than a conference entitled "Protecting our Future 2000"? That's what occupational safety and health is all about-protecting lives today to ensure our future tomorrow.
- Or as we like to say in OSHA-sending every worker home whole and healthy every day. That's our goal for 2000-and beyond.
- Of course, achieving that goal is not easy or simple, but what could be more rewarding than having a hand in preserving lives and preventing injury? I know many of you have dedicated your professional lives-as well as your personal energies-toward this end.
- And the construction industry has made real progress when it comes to overall injury and illness rates. Construction injury and illness rates have declined by nearly 30 percent since 1993. And for the past five years, the rates for your industry have dropped below rates for manufacturing. That's good news-I encourage you to keep up the good work.
- Now I'd like to see us make a real dent in the fatality rates. The news on fatalities has not been good. In fact, it's terrible.
- More construction workers die on the job than workers in any other field. Only 6 percent of Americans work in construction, but nearly 20 percent of American workers who lost their lives in the workplace last year died on construction sites.
- More than 1200 construction workers were killed in 1998-a 6 percent increase from 1997. At the same time, overall workplace fatalities across the U.S. declined 3 percent. While occupational deaths have been declining in most other industries, deaths on construction sites have been increasing-by 25 percent over the past seven years.
- Clearly, those numbers are headed in the wrong direction, and we must do something about it. We have pledged to work with your industry to reduce fatalities by 15 percent in construction by 2002. That would mean preventing the deaths of 140 workers each year. To do that, we need the partnership of groups like the Construction Safety Council that are committed to workplace safety and health.
- At OSHA, we have begun an in-depth analysis of construction industry injury and illness and fatality trends by employer size. We already know that smaller employers tend to have significantly higher rates. But our inspection targeting system takes us to the larger employers. So, given the trends, we need you, the larger employers, to help focus on your small subcontractors and insist that they, too, pay special attention to safety.
- One thing is very clear. We must make safety and health for construction workers a top priority on every project, whether it's roofing a house, painting a bridge or building a major sports stadium.
- The good news that you and I know is that safety pays. Preventing injuries and illnesses doesn't increase costs. It increases profits.
- Even average companies can reduce injuries 20 to 40 percent by establishing a safety and health program. For every $1 invested in safety and health programs, contractors can save $4 to $6 in costs of workplace injuries and illnesses. It's an investment that makes sense. Yet only 30 percent of employers have put safety and health programs in place. And that makes no sense at all.
- Construction employers have long been required to have a safety and health program and to train employees to work safely. But the more than 90 percent of contractors that have fewer than 20 workers are the least likely to have safety and health programs. We need to help them.
- OSHA's Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, which is meeting here tomorrow in conjunction with this conference, has urged us to adopt a revised safety and health program standard for construction that acknowledges the unique working conditions and hazards in construction.
- Let me just add here that the advisory committee has been very productive. I have especially appreciated Stewart Burkhammer's leadership as acting chair of the committee over the past year. With his support and encouragement, ACCSH has 15 workgroups addressing everything from safety and health programs, to working with a diversified workforce, to multi-employer citation policy.
- Among the elements of safety and health programs that we need to focus on is increased training for workers. Insistence upon proper training is one of the key issues in order to reduce fatalities.
- As one example, a little more than a year ago, OSHA issued new requirements for training for fork lift operators. 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 on a construction site is different from picking furniture at the warehouse showroom.
- As another example, last March, I signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators to promote skilled crane operators. OSHA crane standards call for operator training. Our agreement states that we will recognize the NCCCO certification as meeting those training requirements.
- To be certified, crane operators must meet tough standards. The certification process is very thorough and exacting. It includes both a written and a practical test as well as substantial on-the-job experience. It may take some operators-even those with years of experience-more than one try to pass the written test. But the standards recognize that advances in crane technology and the need for efficiency have fundamentally changed the crane operator's job. Several recent crane accidents here in the Midwest and in the Northeast underscore the importance of tough certification requirements.
- The work of the Commission is an excellent example of positive efforts by labor and industry to develop mutually beneficial programs to reduce injuries and fatalities on construction sites. I applaud their work, and I welcome the opportunity to work with other similar labor-management organizations.
- I also want to commend the Construction Safety Council for its work with the St. Paul Companies and the Construction Risk Control Partnership. Your efforts to develop and promote a safety and health curriculum for construction professionals will go a long way toward reducing injuries and illnesses among construction workers. I am especially impressed by the University of Wisconsin-Stout curriculum in construction risk management, including an option for students to minor in construction risk control. I'm sure that Dan Murphy talked about this yesterday, and I am delighted to commend that program to the rest of you. Cooperative efforts like these-involving insurance companies, educational institutions, safety professionals and industry representatives-ensure that safety and health issues will receive the attention they deserve.
- OSHA is also seeking to provide more safety and health education and training to employers and employees. In 1999, OSHA added 10 new compliance assistance officers in our local offices to expand outreach and education. We'll boost that by another 34 in 2000. And President Clinton has asked for an additional 35 in 2001. We need to do more to help those who want to do the right thing. Many states running their own OSHA programs have extensive outreach efforts. We will follow suit.
- President Clinton has also requested $3 million more for the Susan Harwood Training Grants, which would bring our annual total to $11 million. A similar training grant more than 20 years ago launched the Chicagoland Construction Safety Program, the first joint labor-management training effort supported by OSHA. Today contractors support that program with the innovative penny per hour per worker plan while CSC is supported in part by NIOSH.
- Training partnerships continue to improve safety and health for workers and employers. And partnerships will play a major role in achieving safety and health goals in the 21st Century. OSHA has been looking for new opportunities for partnerships in recent years.
- OSHA began its premier partnership, the Voluntary Protection Program, nearly 20 years ago. That program keeps paying big dividends. Today more than 575 workplaces, representing 180 industries save $130 million each year because their injury rates are 50 percent below the average for their industries. Last year, for the first time, we welcomed construction firms into VPP short-term demonstration projects, and I am happy to recognize Torcon and Black & Veatch as the initial participants in this program.
- We have also worked with specific groups to develop specialized partnerships, such as SESAC for steel erectors in Colorado and the Roofing Industry Partnership for contractors in here in the Chicago area and in Ohio and Wisconsin.
- Two months ago, we announced a three-year partnership agreement with PRIDE, a voluntary labor-management organization in St. Louis coordinated through the AGC chapter there. The agreement includes incentives for participating contractors to improve their safety and health performance under strict guidelines. And to join, they must have injury and illness rates below average for contractors in their SIC code in Missouri.
- In return, OSHA will recognize contractors with exemplary programs. We expect the partnership will reduce the need for inspections of participating contractors. Based on this AGC model, on Monday in Washington, we signed a partnership with the Associated Builders and Contractors as well, which will allow ABC local chapters and local OSHA area offices to establish partnership-based programs.
- Partnership doesn't only mean recognizing excellence, however. We also use it when enforcement is required. A year ago in February, we introduced a special initiative for the construction industry in Florida where fatalities have increased nearly 25 percent over a three-year period. Half of work-related deaths in Florida in 1998 occurred in construction. In an effort to stem this tide, OSHA offices in Florida have joined together to introduce C.A.R.E.
- C.A.R.E. stands for Construction Accident Reduction Emphasis. The goal of this program is to "reduce construction accidents and fatalities in Florida by focusing resources on enforcement, partnership and outreach." The program includes training and mentoring, distribution of a model safety and health program, and enforcement focused on the four leading causes of death on construction sites: falls, electrical shock, being struck by machines or materials, and being crushed, such as a trenching collapse or being pinned under a vehicle that has overturned.
- OSHA is also supporting another partnership intended to save lives and prevent serious injuries in highway construction zones. We'd like to see widespread participation in National Highway Work Zone Week April 3 to April 7. Safety in these zones is critical. And we applaud the Federal Highway Administration, the American Traffic Safety Services Association and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials for establishing National Highway Work Zone week to call public attention to the need to drive safely in these zones.
- On another front, as we enter the 21st Century, one of the major occupational health problems that OSHA is addressing is work-related musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs. The solution is ergonomics, and we proposed a standard for general industry last November that focuses on jobs where injuries are high and solutions are well demonstrated. You have no doubt noticed some discussion among your general industry counterparts about the proposal.
- Well, MSDs represent a serious problem in construction as well, and we intend to address that once we have more experience and more practical information to share. Once again, ACCSH, the construction advisory committee, has provided help by developing a best practices guide on musculoskeletal disorders in construction, including suggesting possible solutions to construction workplace problems. You can see their recommendations on the OSHA website at www.osha.gov under construction on the special page devoted to ACCSH. Be sure you look at the last two pages. That's where you'll find the suggested solutions to common hazards involving lifting, excessive force, vibration and repetitive motion at construction sites. I hope you'll find this helpful.
- We are also working on other issues that concern you. We recently published a detailed explanation of our multi-employer worksites policy. Is the general contractor or are subcontractors responsible for safety? The answer, of course, is yes to both. The policy will help you assess the individual and joint responsibilities.
- As the supervisor on the site, the general contractor needs to oversee safety and health as the project moves forward. Subcontractors need to look out for their own employees and for any hazards they create for others. Safety is a shared responsibility, and we cannot allow people to simply point fingers at each other and say it's the other guy's job. Last summer, ACCSH commented on OSHA's revised policy draft for the multi-employer policy, which was of great assistance in developing the final directive.
- On another matter, the comment period has now closed on OSHA's Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on possibly reopening the fall protection standard. OSHA is evaluating about 500 comments we received. The process will take a few months, and then we'll decide what changes, if any, to propose to the standard.
- On another proposal, steel erection, we are moving forward. In December, I met with the Steel Erection Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee-SENRAC-to discuss the results of OSHA's analysis of the comments received on the steel erection proposal. We had a wide-ranging discussion of the issues, and the agency is evaluating the comments SENRAC members gave us during this session. We are close, I think, to agreement on the major issues here. I expect another revision of OSHA's view on steel erection to be shared with SENRAC next month, and then we should be ready for the formal administration review. That happens outside of OSHA and takes about 3 months. Look for a final rule late this summer.
- As I look back at the nation's during the 20th Century in protecting workers at work, we've come a long way. During the past 29 years, overall fatalities have been cut in half; injuries and illnesses reduced by 40 percent. But as your conference theme points out so well, we need to protect our future as well.
- We can't rest until every construction worker and every contractor has an effective safety and health program. We can't claim victory until we eliminate the high death toll at construction sites.
- I can promise you that OSHA will work with the Construction Safety Council to achieve these goals. We will work in partnership with employers and employees across the country toward this end. Let's affirm our commitment to get the job done safely. And let's remember-even one death out there is one death too many.