Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|
| Information Date:||04/27/2001|
| Presented To:||South Carolina Occupational Safety Council|
| Speaker:||Layne, R. Davis|
R. Davis Layne
South Carolina Occupational
64th Annual Conference
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
April 27, 2001
We Americans like practical approaches. We want what works. Everyone here today knows that one thing that works is safety. Safety not only works, it pays!
Your conference theme says it all-Safety Works When We Work Together. Working together is indeed what safety is all about. It's working smart. It's watching out for our co-workers. It's committing the resources to get the job done right. It's taking care of business. And it's also taking care of the bottom line.
We've come a long way in occupational safety and health. Work-related fatalities are at an all-time low. Occupational injuries and illnesses have declined 40 percent since OSHA opened its doors in 1971. In fact we're celebrating our 30th birthday tomorrow. And the South Carolina OSHA-the Nation's first state program-will have a similar anniversary in just six months.
Over the past three decades U.S. employment has nearly doubled. OSHA-along with our state partners like South Carolina-now covers 105 million workers at nearly 6.9 million sites. Yet injury and illness rates continue to come down.
What those numbers tell us is that employers and employees are taking job safety and health seriously. The right to a safe and healthful working environment is firmly established. We can no longer accept injuries and illnesses as a routine cost of doing business. We don't expect anyone to accept a shorter life span in exchange for a paycheck.
Workplace cultures are changing. More and more employers are making safety and health a top priority. They have safety and health programs. They involve employees in preventing injuries and illnesses. They investigate not only accidents, but near misses. They build safety and health considerations into new facilities.
You are here today at this conference because you've made a commitment to make safety and health a priority in your business. You're doing the right thing, and I commend you for it. I'm sure you will have many opportunities over the next couple of days to learn about effective ways to address possible hazards at your worksite. I encourage you to take advantage of them. And take advantage of the opportunity to talk with others who share your commitment to protecting workers on the job.
Paying attention to occupational safety and health is about treating people right-and reaping the rewards. Some of the rewards are financial. Studies show, for example, that for every $1 invested in safety and health, a company can expect a return of $4 to $6.
Other rewards are more difficult to put a dollar sign on-higher employee morale, lower turnover rates, improved productivity, greater employee job satisfaction and a positive reputation as a "good place to work." But these benefits can be even more important to the success of an enterprise than dollars on a balance sheet.
We know that employers care about their workers. They don't want to see them hurt or sick. OSHA's goal is to work with employers to help them protect their employees. Most employers in the U.S. are small-90 percent have fewer than 20 employees. If that national statistic holds true for South Carolina, that would mean that you have more than 85,000 small businesses here in the Palmetto State.
At small companies, everyone has multiple roles and juggles a variety of responsibilities. And most handle it well. But a few need extra encouragement. It's our job to see that safety and health isn't one of the balls that gets dropped.
Enforcement is, of course, one tool. Yet inspection resources are very limited. Last year SC-OSH conducted about 1,800 inspections. In other words, fewer than 2 percent of South Carolina employers saw an OSHA inspector last year. Clearly enforcement alone is insufficient to address workplace safety and health concerns.
Fortunately, there are other ways. Sometimes better ways. In recent years, OSHA has begun to place greater emphasis on partnerships as a way to help employers and workers focus on safety. For 19 years, our premier partnership has been the Voluntary Protection Programs. South Carolina has been a strong supporter of partnerships as well, beginning a similar recognition program seven years ago. Today 37 sites are recognized by Palmetto Star. To qualify, a site must have a total injury and illness rate and a lost workday incident rate that is 50 percent below the state average for that industry for each of the past three years.
VPP laid the foundation and continues to set a high standard for all other OSHA partnerships. Through VPP we learned that cooperative approaches, based on trust and teamwork, make a real difference for employers and employees.
Over the past several years, we have been looking for additional partnership opportunities. Two years ago we established the OSHA Strategic Performance Program. We now have 97 active partnerships under the OSPP umbrella. More than 4,500 employers and nearly 110,000 employees participate. Industries involved range from construction to chemical manufacturing to auto manufacturing.
South Carolina has also looked at other strategies to improve workplace safety and health. One of those is the Special Pilot Poultry Program. This program includes an enforcement component, but emphasizes cooperation through individual plans of action at poultry processing plants. This effort has helped the industry move in the right direction toward reducing injuries. We're expecting to hear of further reductions when the numbers are tallied for last year.
Along with North Carolina, your state also has developed a cooperative effort with the Associated General Contractors to hold teleconferences on topics such as trenching and fall hazards. This approach has reached hundreds of participants at more than 25 sites in the Carolinas. And injuries in construction in South Carolina declined by more than 10 percent in 1999 from 1998.
Another of OSHA's goals is to encourage workplace safety and health through a variety of outreach efforts. Some of our programs are in-person, on-site efforts like our consultation program targeted for small businesses. More than 300 South Carolina workplaces benefitted from this program last year. Consultation provides a personal touch, one-on-one guidance and help.
We're also using the worldwide web for outreach. Information available on OSHA's website has dramatically increased from fewer than 2,000 pages in 1995 to more than 40,000 today. And our web visitors are increasing daily. We set a record last month with nearly 30 million gross hits on our website in March-a 25-percent-increase over our previous high.
Our site now includes specialized pages-like an expanded small business page, a partnership page and a workers' page. These subpages pull together information of particular interest to individual groups or on specific issues. The goal is one-stop shopping so that busy workers or businesspeople can find the OSHA information they need quickly.
We also have expert systems on our website. Some of these address specific issues that might be of concern in a variety of industries such as computer workstations or respiratory protection.
Others are interactive software programs that provide specific recommendations for addressing hazards tailored to your individual workplace. Based on your answers to a series of questions, these advisors help you determine whether your workplace is covered by an OSHA standard, such as cadmium or asbestos. Or they can help you identify potential hazards in your workplace or possible savings from a safety program. In line with the specific circumstances you've identified, the advisors deliver recommendations specially tailored for your workplace.
We are constantly adding to our website. If you haven't visited lately, I encourage you to take a look. It's www.osha.gov.
As some of you may know, we've got a great safety and health training facility in the Chicago area-the OSHA Training Institute. But we'd like to make our training more widely available. The 12 Education Centers have helped. The one closest to you is at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Check the website for a complete listing of courses offered there.
Still, there are many more employers and employees we need to reach. One possibility is satellite-delivered training. Using this technology we could provide live course broadcasts to OSHA staff and to the public. Our strategy is to capitalize on the existing satellite infrastructure. 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 exploring the options for various approaches with a view toward expanding our effort.
OSHA has also reached out on an international level. We've been working diligently with our counterparts around the world to bring harmony to hazard communication systems across the globe. It's a complex, difficult task, and it's taken much longer than we hoped. But we are beginning to see some light at the end of this tunnel. The technical work should be completed this year-that's the criteria for classifying health, physical and environmental hazards and also mixtures and hazard communication elements such as labels and material safety data sheets. Then the U.S. will have to decide whether to use the international system and how to implement it.
We've established a working partnership with the European Union. Our goal is to eliminate trade barriers as well as share effective strategies for addressing workplace safety and health hazards. Last year we launched a joint webpage featuring hazard information and recommended safety and health practices from all 15 member countries.
OSHA is also participating in technical co-operation projects in a number of countries around the world including South Africa and Bangladesh. We're also pursuing a regional project in Central America with the construction industry as those countries rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. We've been involved in a safety awareness campaign in eight countries, led by joint labor-management teams from U.S. companies.
Even as we reach out internationally, things have changed at home. As everyone knows, we have a new team in Washington. And not everyone is in place yet. No one has been named to head OSHA, so we still have many issues up in the air.
But there are a few things I can share with you. First, the updated rules for bloodborne pathogens have been affirmed and became effective in federal states on April 18. States that run their own OSHA programs like South Carolina will have until the fall to issue comparable rules.
We've begun an outreach effort to let everyone know about the changes. There are two major ones. First, there's a new requirement to keep a log of needlesticks and protect worker privacy. Second, employers must involve frontline employees in selecting safer needle devices. While it's not a change per se, the updated bloodborne pathogens standard clarifies the requirement in the original standard for employers to review their exposure control plans every year. Part of that review is taking a look at new devices to determine whether there are safer needles and sharps available to protect workers.
On another front, a small change in the cotton dust standard went into effect April 6. This amendment added the "batch kier" cotton washing method to the other procedures exempted from portions of the cotton dust standard. This method has been improved and no longer poses a threat to workers of exposure to cotton dust.
One of the hot topics in Washington continues to be ergonomics. I'm sure that you're all aware that Congress voted to overturn the November 2000 standard and that President Bush signed that bill on March 21. The President has said that he wants to pursue a comprehensive approach to ergonomics.
Secretary Chao has promised to listen to stakeholders on this issue and to find common ground. She has indicated she is willing to consider new rulemaking, guidelines or a legislative solution. In Senate testimony yesterday, she outlined six guiding principles for addressing ergonomics:
Prevention -- placing greater emphasis on preventing injuries before they occur;
Sound science -- relying on the best available science and research;
Incentive driven -- emphasizing cooperation between OSHA and employers;
Flexibility -- avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach;
Feasibility -- recognizing the cost of compliance, especially for small businesses; and
Clarity -- including short, simple and common sense instructions.
As OSHA addresses ergonomics and other unfolding issues, we'll be providing information through our website. So I encourage you to track issues of interest to you through our site.
Tomorrow OSHA begins its fourth decade. We look back on three decades of doing our best to protect working American working men and women. And we intend to do no less in the decade ahead. We look forward to working together with you toward that end.
|Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|