Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents|
| Information Date:||08/27/2001|
| Presented To:||VPPPA|
| Speaker:||Elaine L. Chao|
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao
Prepared Remarks to the Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association
August 27, 2001
Thank you, Lee Anne, for that introduction. I appreciate your support of companies that are leading the way in safety and health programs.
I also want to thank Jack Hurst from OxyChem for being here today. As well as the new Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, John Henshaw. The safety and health community knows John well. President George W. Bush made a great choice when he picked John to head OSHA.
It's a pleasure to be here with so many friends.
Before I begin, I want to tell you how exciting it is to be part of a new Administration that is bringing positive change to Washington.
In just the first six months of his tenure, President George W. Bush secured passage of a major tax cut, moved landmark education reforms through the House and Senate, forged a compromise on the Patient's Bill of Rights, and achieved immense progress in giving America the serious energy policy that it needs.
And these successes were not the work of one party or a handful of lawmakers. The President invited all sides to the table and worked with Democrats and Republicans, and yes, even an independent Senator, to get results.
It reminds me of Ronald Reagan's signature phrase: "There's no limit to what one can do or where one can go...if they don't mind who gets the credit."
In the time I've spent with President Bush, I have discovered two secrets to his remarkable success: first, President Bush doesn't sit around thinking about his "legacy" -- instead, he thinks about the American people, what their concerns are, and how to address them.
Second, President Bush is committed to "changing the tone" in Washington. For years, ingrained partisanship has been an obstacle to common-sense changes that most Americans support.
This President is proving that we can get results by respecting the other side. As he puts it, people can disagree without being disagreeable. It is possible to achieve progress if one is willing, sometimes, to put politics aside.
President George W. Bush is a leader who says what he means and means what he says. While that doesn't always make everyone happy, open and honest communication does build trust.
And trust is the road to real progress.
VPP is proving that common-sense partnerships can dramatically improve safety. It's no surprise that you have an injury and illness rate that is 60 percent lower than the average in your respective industries. For the past 19 years, VPP has helped set the standard of health and safety.
I am pleased to see some original VPP members here today -- like ALSTOM Power from Wellsville, New York. And I want to welcome some of our first year members, including Ciba Specialty Chemicals from Albemarle, North Carolina and Sauer Danfross from Freeport, Illinois.
VPP participants work in every region and every industry, some are small like Icicle Seafoods in Anchorage, Alaska. And others are large businesses with multiple sites and thousands of employees.
In all, more than 750 workplaces with 500,000 employees have joined VPP. At every site, you will find employees and employers working side by side to raise the bar on worker safety.
Success stories are found in every company, and all of you deserve recognition. Let me give you two examples: Citizens Memorial Healthcare in Bolivar, Missouri is the first nursing home to join VPP. With three nursing homes in VPP, and more to come, Citizens is now serving as a mentor for other long-term care facilities.
VPP is demonstrating day-in and day-out the value of voluntary compliance in the 21st century economy.
As you know, the economy is changing how Americans work, where they work, what they expect from work, and what they want when they retire.
You could say that the only thing permanent in the economy is change.
And change brings new challenges. These include a widening gap between high-skilled jobs and low-skilled workers, a demographic destiny of growing labor shortages, and the difficulty in balancing the demands of work and family.
I hope my tenure as Secretary of Labor will oversee the modernization of the Department of Labor -- building a new Department of the Workforce that is more responsive, more inclusive in how we address workforce challenges in the 21st century.
And that means turning obstacles into opportunities.
For example, future labor shortages will make us a nation more open to the talents of all our people -- including those who have been left out of the workforce up to now: older workers, Americans with disabilities and the economically disadvantaged. Opening the doors of opportunity to all used to be a moral imperative, but it is fast becoming an economic one as well.
As I see it, our job at the Department of Labor is not just to react to changes, but to anticipate them and enable our workforce to adapt to them, perhaps even take advantage of them.
I share this because finding solutions for the 21st century workforce will require new ways of thinking. And the Department must be guided by common sense, not just a reflexive, one-size-fits-all approach to every situation.
That is why the VPP is so important. When government and industry work together to implement and promote state-of-the-art safety and health programs, everyone benefits.
In the months ahead, I will be working to improve VPP by ensuring its long-term presence within OSHA, as well as increasing its membership -- especially among small businesses.
In that spirit, I am excited to announce today two major initiatives that will expand and extend your mission to improve workers' safety and health.
First, I am pleased to announce the Department of Labor's official support for legislation that would codify VPP under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act. This program has earned a permanent place in OSHA's mandate.
Second, OSHA and the VPP participants association are forming a new initiative that will significantly increase the joint outreach to small businesses through your mentoring program. Over the next three years, OSHA and the association's member companies will work to double the number of small businesses in the association
From large multinational companies to single site, family-run businesses, VPP can benefit all eligible employers -- including small business owners.
OSHA will help find the candidates. And the association's member companies will mentor the candidates by modeling excellence, answering questions, and helping with the applications
I don't believe the government has all the answers. The government cannot solve every problem by itself.
In fact, we know that the government is simply unable to ensure safe, healthy, and fair workplaces on its own. For example, at the current pace it would take OSHA 167 years to inspect every workplace in America just one time.
It's simple: the Department of Labor must embrace prevention. We must work with employers and employees -- organized and unorganized -- to create a workplace culture that says safety is Number One. We must anticipate problems before they happen, not just reacting to them after the fact.
Proactive compliance assistance from OSHA is the right thing for business and workers in the 21st century economy.
In the weeks to come, the Department will begin to develop our comprehensive compliance initiative -- building more joint ventures with employers and employees. These joint ventures, as VPP has shown, are working and the Department needs to encourage more of them.
Leadership and responsibility are the anchors that ensure safer, more productive workplaces. On behalf of the Administration, I commend you for the remarkable work you are doing in your industries. To view the workplace as a dichotomy consisting of labor versus management is the old paradigm. Safety at the workplace is everyone's concern. As we enter the 21st century, new challenges beckon. Our nation is seeking individuals and groups who lead by example.
I am reminded of President George W. Bush's inaugural address when he said, "Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.
You have taken the President's challenge and turned it into action. Again, congratulations on your wonderful success. Thank you very much.
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