"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
American Industrial Hygiene
Conference and Exposition
May 23, 2000
- In the early 1900s, the following classified ad appeared in the London Times: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in the event of success. Signed E. Shackleton."
- The next morning 5,000 men were lined up outside the Times' offices ready to sign on for the dangerous mission, whatever it might be. Ernest Shackleton was seeking crew members for an expedition to reach the South Pole on a ship called the Endurance.
- As safety and health professionals, our mission for the 21st Century is not to lead men and women into hazardous territory on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to achieve a moment of glory. Rather, we want to sustain every day a quality of life for working Americans that brings them home whole and healthy every night. Our mission doesn't draw huge crowds overnight. But our numbers are expanding and public support for our efforts is strong.
- Though Shackleton never reached the South Pole, he achieved fame for his explorations because he executed so well his carefully thought out plan. He proved himself exceptionally adept in finding creative, life-saving solutions for impossible situations.
- As we face the third millennium, OSHA also has a plan, a strategic plan, to guide us. Like Shackleton, we are prepared to modify that plan as we go along to achieve our objectives. Our goals are simple: We want to reduce injuries and illnesses, create safety-conscious workplace cultures and secure public confidence in the agency.
- AIHA shares these goals, and as we consider our joint mission of prevention for the 21st Century, I want to talk about where we are today. Then I want to share with you some thoughts on where we need to go.
- Let me just say that we do appreciate all the support that we have received from AIHA?on the budget, on partnerships, on safety and health programs and many other issues. Thank you for your ongoing encouragement.
- The good news is that injury and illness rates are down by 22 percent since President Clinton took office. Fatalities on the job have declined to an all-time low. We're seeing the results of our efforts to maximize our resources. And this has been achieved while the economy has boomed, production has been at an all-time high, and 3 million new jobs have been created.
- Beginning in 1995, OSHA pledged to help reduce injury and illness rates by 20 percent in 50,000 workplaces where we intervened. And more than 50,000 of you following our actions met that milestone, based on data submitted to us and BLS. I congratulate you, and we pledge to move on to 50,000 more. We've refined our inspection targeting program to zero in on the companies with the highest injury rates. And we're making the impact we hoped for.
- This year, we'll inspect about 4,000 sites under our Site Specific Targeting Program. These are sites that have 14 or more injuries per 100 workers?that's more than four times the average rate for businesses in the U.S.
- In addition to these 4,000, about 9,000 others received a letter from me this spring advising them that they reported injury and illness rates for 1998 more than twice the national average. I encouraged them to address safety and health problems in their workplaces and to get help if they need it?from private consultants like many of you here, from the OSHA consultation program, from insurance companies, or from others in their industry. I believe that knowing they are on OSHA's list, they may be motivated to address their problems.
- Partnerships are also making a difference. We started in 1993 with Maine 200, tried a national approach and have now evolved into a series of local partnerships, with 63 active today. Partnership is a different way of working that makes enormous sense. Each partnership is tailored by our area offices to hazards in their local area. We have industry-specific partnerships, hazard-based partnerships and geographically-centered partnerships. Our agreements focus on solving problems. They provide another avenue to reach employers and employees to encourage them to adopt effective safety and health programs and to share strategies for eliminating common hazards that result in injuries and illnesses.
- The grandmother of OSHA partnerships, of course, is the Voluntary Protection Program?our premier partnership recognizing worksites doing an outstanding job with occupational safety and health. Many of you come from one of the more than 600 workplaces that fly a VPP flag. Since 1993, VPP has increased five-fold as more employers and employees want the public to know about their excellence in taking care of their business.
- VPP represents the vanguard of our efforts to change workplace cultures to make worker safety and health and top priority. These sites not only serve as models; many are also mentors for other companies.
- Most employers want to do the right thing, but they are not always sure what they need to do. About 90 percent of employers in the U.S. have 20 or fewer employees. Most have no full-time safety and health staff. They need help in establishing safety and health programs and access to information to help them find and fix hazards.
- Over the past six years, OSHA has employed new avenues to assist employers and employees who need guidance. Information available on our website has dramatically increased from fewer than 2,000 pages in 1995 to some 40,000 today. We have 16 expert and technical advisor software programs on our site to walk employers and workers through standards to help them focus on what to do to avoid injury or illness.
- Last month, we announced a new workers' page on our site, similar to our small business page, which draws together information of particular interest to workers. For the first time, workers can file complaints electronically?and over the past month more than 400 have done so.
- We have doubled the funding for our Susan Harwood training grants over the past four years. We've begun to explore possibilities for distance learning through the OSHA Training Institute. We've hired 44 compliance assistance specialists for our area offices who are devoting their time to helping employers get the training they need. We've expanded OSHA's capabilities. But we are just at the beginning of what we can and should do to assist employers and employees. Many opportunities lie ahead. OSHA seeks to become respected as much for our education as for our enforcement.
- Enforcement, partnerships and outreach are all critical elements of a balanced approach to occupational safety and health. However, any of these activities can be handled by other people, and in some states they are.
- There's's only one thing, though, that no one else can do. Federal OSHA has the unique responsibility for setting mandatory national safety and health standards for the workplace. Others can do voluntary standards, but only OSHA can mandate national rules of behavior. That imposes on us both the duty to write standards well and also the task of keeping up with the hazards in the workplace. This is a tough job, and we're not there yet.
- Our standards writing process is improving. Our standards are being written in everyday language. We've been successful in employing teams to move the process along more quickly within the agency. But that's not enough.
- The system is overloaded, and it needs major changes. We can address only a few major rulemakings while hundreds of smaller things are left undone. We cannot fulfill our mandate without changes to the current process.
- That said, OSHA expects to promulgate five final rules this year?ergonomics, recordkeeping, tuberculosis, personal protective equipment and steel erection. As you know, we've just completed our nine-week hearing on ergonomics. My thanks to those of you who were among the nearly 1,000 who testified or more than 7,000 who submitted comments. We appreciate your participation and your willingness to work with us to develop an effective standard. For the first time, many of you were able to participate electronically, and I hope this heralds a new era of participation in OSHA rulemaking.
- Ergonomics is OSHA's top priority because work-related musculoskeletal disorders affect about 1.8 million workers each year, including 600,000 injuries serious enough to cause workers to miss work. This is not something we can ignore. Many employers have instituted ergonomics programs and found them effective in preventing injuries as well as beneficial to the bottom line.
- We're now accepting post-hearing comments and briefs from hearing participants. In all, we'll spend eight months receiving public input on our proposal before the record closes this summer.
- We are serious about listening to all those who participate in the rulemaking. But we are equally serious about acting. To ignore musculoskeletal disorders simply because the damage is not visible or the issue is controversial would be irresponsible on our part. We know we must address this occupational problem. The only question remaining is how best to do so. Our final standard will incorporate the best ideas we receive throughout the rulemaking process.
- Another major effort?our recordkeeping rule?is in the final stages of review. Since it and our ergonomics proposal may affect one another, we are giving the recordkeeping rule extra review. When it is published, we will provide you sufficient time for training your recordkeeping staff.
- I'd like to turn now to the future. Where do we go from here?
- When it comes to enforcement, we're moving in the right direction. Our inspections are better targeted, and we're finding more violations as a result. To a certain extent, the future for enforcement is more of the same?continually improving our targeting system, developing a better system for construction.
- For partnerships, we are exploring ways to involve third parties more effectively. As you know, I've opposed ceding OSHA inspection authority to third parties as Senator Enzi would like to do. But his goal?extending OSHA's reach and impact?is a worthy one. Third parties can play a greater role in partnerships and we gave several examples in place. Look for more in this area.
- As I said earlier, we have much more to do in education and outreach. We are positioned for major growth, thanks to the foundation we have built, the support of Congress and leaps in technology.
- The President's budget for next year includes a $12-million increase for outreach and education, including more staffers dedicated to compliance assistance. This will enable OSHA to complete the foundation we've begun, putting a compliance assistance specialist in every area office. Then virtually every business covered by federal OSHA will have someone nearby to call for help.
- We also plan to make training available via distance learning. We're looking into using satellite-delivered training to provide live course broadcasts to OSHA staff and to the public. Our strategy is to capitalize on the existing satellite infrastructure. Beyond that, we will need to move to webcasts, which you can receive at a computer on your desk. That way we can deliver training to many more employees and dramatically increase the live training we can offer employers and workers while minimizing the cost.
- Another approach is computer-based training using CD-ROMs, DVDs and the Internet. We're now piloting an effort using a form of computer-based training that combines the best of both worlds. Students benefit from the direction and expertise of a live instructor. And they also receive individualized computer training.
- In addition, we need to find ways to make greater use of the knowledge and materials developed by our Susan Harwood grantees. There's a wealth of material that needs to be further disseminated so that more employers and employees can benefit from it. We need to make it available so we can multiply the impact of those grants.
- I think it's clear that the area that really demands change is standard-setting. We've been trying to speed the pace of standards development through our internal processes. We've made progress, and I'm pleased with that.
- But we need to recognize that just improving our internal process is not going to fix the increasing difficulties in the way OSHA standards are promulgated. Our capacity is limited to two or three major rulemakings each year, if we are lucky. Given the long list of issues that both labor and business want us to address, that's nowhere near sufficient. It is impossible to keep up with the complexity of the modern workplace and the speed of change as new chemicals, new processes and new machinery are introduced.
- OSHA dedicates about 5 percent of its resources to standard-setting?$15 million. We have about 100 people who spend half their time developing new standards and half their time interpreting and responding to questions about existing standards. In contrast, EPA devotes 40% of its resources to standard-setting. And EPA has 10 times the staff and 20 times the budget that OSHA does. A serious question for OSHA's future is whether or not to dedicate more of the agency's resources to standard-setting.
- We must find a way to address new hazards at a reasonable pace supported by a reasonable level of science and reasonable assessments of feasibility. And we don't have the climate of collegiality we need for that. The current ergonomics debate is less about the science of ergonomics and more about whether the government will apply a reasonable judgment in enforcing whatever standard is adopted. Too many trade and business groups have adopted the view that you can't trust OSHA and that they never met a regulation they liked. The nay-sayers in the business community are drowning out those of you who would like to engage in how to write standards well.
- Even voluntary standard-setting groups are finding their own efforts to be more contentious and controversial within the business community. This is a problem that you in the business community must address. OSHA will work in partnership with you, but as long as the only voices heard on Capitol Hill from the business community are those who want to STOP OSHA, progress will be difficult. I commend AIHA on trying to speak out, but AIHA needs corporate voices to speak up loud in support.
- Part of the problem for OSHA in rulemaking is the incredible documentation required for an OSHA standard. As you know, the ergonomics proposal is only 10 ? pages long, but the supporting explanation and analyses run more than 1,000 pages. We have to develop the legal analysis to weather inevitable court challenges. The more analysis, the more time for each rulemaking.
- A legislative solution that changes the way OSHA establishes rules sounds attractive. But short of NAM and the AFL-CIO storming the Hill hand-in-hand, it is difficult to see that happening. In recent years, Congress has imposed new rules of its own, which tend to make rulemaking more difficult and complicated rather than more expeditious.
- So we're at a stalemate. The standard-setting process is limping along. We're hobbled by inadequate resources, a litigious society and a lack of consensus among labor and management on the need for new regulations.
- All of us who have a long-term interest and investment in worker safety and health want to see this change. We must overcome the adversarial climate, and we may need to convince the Congress that we need modifications to streamline the way OSHA sets standards. That's going to be a tough sales job.
- However, the good news is that the public commitment to safety and health remains high. Corporate and employee attention to safety and health remains high, as evidenced by the falling injury and illness rates.
- At the turn of the last century, Ernest Shackleton envisioned planting a Union Jack on the South Pole. At the beginning of the 21st Century, our vision is not to brave dangers but to reduce them for every American in every workplace. Working with AIHA members as our partners, we have the team we need to accomplish that mission, and send every worker home safe and sound in the years ahead.