Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|
| Information Date:||10/17/2000|
| Presented To:||National Occupational Injury Research Symposium|
| Speaker:||Jeffress, Charles N.|
Charles N. Jeffress
National Occupational Injury
October 17, 2000
How can we reduce injuries and deaths on the job? That's the fundamental question for us as occupational safety and health professionals And those of you here have devoted your careers to finding answers.
And we're here to listen to the best answers you've found. We're here to talk with those who are still looking. And we will explore together other avenues that we might try.
When we say more research is needed, it is a call to action.
As one researcher pointed out, "No research is ever quite complete. It is the glory of a good bit of work that it opens the way for something still better, and this repeatedly leads to its own eclipse." That's a fancy way of acknowledging that all good research leads to further research, of course, but all good research also gives some direction to our preventive actions as well.
In OSHA's efforts to prevent occupational injuries and deaths, we use a multi-dimensional approach. We call it New Ways of Working, and we emphasize four elements: strong enforcement, creative partnerships, outreach and education and improved rulemaking.
We've adopted this strategy to leverage our resources and multiply our impact. We recognize full well that improving work environments for all American workers 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.
That is true of research as well. The pay-off is not immediate. One project may not provide answers, but yields questions for the next researcher to ponder.
There are certainly many valid questions that need answers. But I'd like to focus this morning on some of the issues OSHA would particularly like to see addressed. These are areas that we believe clearly need some work.
First, fatalities in construction. Fatality rates have plateaued, and we have made no additional progress in the last five years. Construction injury rates have declined by nearly 30 percent since 1993 and for the past five years have been lower than the rates for manufacturing. But the construction fatality rate has shown no reduction at all.
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. That's about 1200 workers.
We know what's killing construction workers?that's not the issue. It's falls from elevations, electrical shock, being struck by machines or materials and being crushed, such as in a trench collapse.
The facts are clear. But we need to dig deeper to find out why these deaths are occurring. What are the causes of these accidents? What can we do to prevent future tragedies?
Let me give you some examples. We know that electrocutions are a leading cause of fatalities in construction, but we know too little about how to prevent them. How can we stop construction equipment and materials from coming into accidental contact with overhead lines? How can we better protect transmission line workers? If we are to reduce electrocution deaths, we must focus on research on practical applications.
When the cause of death is listed as "struck-by," why does that happen? Are our warning signs inadequate? Are our positioning practices at fault? Do our materials handling procedures need review?
What about falls that kill workers? NIOSH's FACE project has been analyzing the causes of falls for many years and has done excellent work. But we still need to work harder on the applied science of fall prevention.
How effective are fall prevention programs in different types of construction? residential, commercial, industrial, heavy construction? How could we apply lessons learned in one environment to another?
A particular concern at present is falls from the construction and maintenance of communication towers. The business is unique because of how quickly the towers are built and the lack of safe means for getting people and materials to heights quickly. What practical strategies would work in this industry to prevent falls and save lives?
As you can see, we have a lot of questions about fatalities. And this is where we can save the most lives. We need your help as occupational safety researchers to focus on fatalities in construction.
There are other issues, of course. Like musculoskeletal disorders. What strategies could construction employers use to reduce back injuries? How can contractors address awkward postures and heavy lifting?
We will be following our general industry ergonomics standard, which will be out before the end of the year, with a focus on ergonomics in construction. There remains great debate about how or whether anything can be done about musculoskeletal disorders in construction, and we need help identifying successful interventions.
One issue that cuts across industry lines is safety and health training. Outreach and education has been a major emphasis of mine since I joined OSHA three years ago.
Over the past four years, OSHA has doubled the funding for our Susan Harwood training grants. We've begun to explore possibilities for distance learning through the OSHA Training Institute. We are hiring compliance assistance specialists for each of our area offices who devote 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. To get the most for our money, we need to know what type of training is most likely to produce results. That's where research comes in.
Which training strategies, tools or techniques are effective? Web-based videos, written materials, on-site classes? And under what circumstances?
Do combinations work better than single strategies or tools? If so, which ones?
How important is interaction? Do students need direct and immediate contact with teachers? Which types of interaction are most effective for distance-based learning?
Should training vary, depending upon a worker's experience? What's the most effective way for employers to train new hires? Should employers use the same techniques or different ones to provide refresher training to current employees?
Another area that concerns OSHA is the impact of changing demographics on workplace safety and health. More immigrants are joining both the workforce and the ranks of small employers. How do we reach them with safety and health training and information? The web? Small business groups? Ethnic groups?
What about the use of incentive programs? We know about the problems. Yet they remain popular. Is there are way to structure these programs so that they make a real difference?not just on paper but in the work environment? Which positive approaches best protect workers and produce real injury and illness reductions?
Agriculture is an industry where additional research is needed. While few people are employed here, there are high fatality rates among those who work on our nation's farms. And we need to go beyond just identifying what is hurting people.
The research must address solutions as well. The solutions must be practical. They have to be feasible?both technologically and economically. Given the finances of farmers, this is more of an issue in agriculture than in some other industries. An option for hazard reduction may be a great idea, but if it's financially out of reach, then we know farmers are unlikely to implement it.
Finally, in terms of research, we need to expand our horizons. Commerce is truly global today, and safety and health solutions need to be as well. Let's take advantage of what others have found workable. I'd like to see some of our efforts address what works in other countries. What have the Japanese done that might work here? How does Sweden address lockout/tagout? What symbols are the South Africans using in their hazard communication program? If multi-national firms can comply with lower exposure limits in other countries, what are the obstacles to their reaching lower levels here?
Two years ago, we began a partnership with the European Union to exchange ideas and information on workplace safety and health issues. In a couple of weeks, we will be holding our second international conference with EU countries in San Francisco. I'd like to see us take advantage of the practical strategies already in place in these countries. If they've found a solution that works, it makes sense to see if that approach would work here.
As you plan your research for the next few years, consider that OSHA will identify early next year which industries it will focus on for injury and illness reduction for the next three years. If you have information that will help us decide where to focus, please let us know. If you want your research to be coordinated with our education and enforcement, please participate in our strategic plan process for identifying our targeted industries. Together we can make a difference.
Wernher Von Braun once said, "Basic research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am doing." We're fortunate. We don't have that problem. We know what we need to be doing..
We are trying to find the most effective and the most efficient ways to reduce injuries and deaths in the workplace. We are trying to deliver on the promise of the Occupational Safety and Health Act?to send every worker home whole and healthy every day. And we welcome your creative and innovative ideas and efforts toward that end.
|Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|