John L. Henshaw
Alice Hamilton Conference
The Foundation of Occupational
Health and Safety
September 21, 2002
- I'm delighted to be part of this conference honoring Dr. Alice Hamilton, the foremost pioneer in occupational medicine, epidemiology and toxicology. Her contributions created new disciplines, but more importantly improved the health and lives of individuals.
- Dr. Hamilton's passion and persistence have inspired many of us to dedicate our lives to worker safety and health. Unfortunately, she died shortly before the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
- But her work as a social reformer, investigator and physician formed the foundation for those who established OSHA. Her commitment to public service -- as an unpaid special investigator -- has been a personal inspiration to me as I moved from the private sector to the public sector last year.
- From what I know of Dr. Hamilton, it's clear that she didn't hesitate to dig deeper when she glimpsed a connection between an illness or injury and an individual's work. She identified links and called attention to health problems.
- It's because of pioneers like Dr. Hamilton, dedicated safety and health professionals, concerned employers, alert workers and committed public servants, that working conditions have improved significantly over the last three decades ago.
- Over the last 30 years, workplace fatalities have been cut in half and occupational injury and illness rates have declined 40 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has doubled from 56 million workers at 3.5 million worksites to 111 million workers at 7 million sites.
- The good news is simple: injuries and illnesses on the job in America keep declining. Last December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics told us that injuries/illnesses are continuing on a downward trend. In 2000-injuries and illnesses in our nation's workplaces were the lowest in 8 years. But that's not good enough.
- As safety and health professionals, we know we must accelerate that trend ... too many workers are still going home hurt or sick and more than 16 per day aren't going home at all. We want to drive those numbers into the ground. And I'm convinced we can.
- It's one thing to cry alarm ... it's another -- and more difficult -- to do something about it.
- Everyone has a stake in workplace safety and health ... government officials, safety and health professionals, individual workers and managers and family members. We play different roles... but we share a common goal -- keeping workers whole and healthy and on the job.
- I want to share with you what OSHA is doing toward this end ... in several major areas and also on some special initiatives. The purpose is to drive down injuries and illnesses even further.
- While providing leadership, OSHA is focusing on three strategies ... 1) enforcement; 2) outreach, education and compliance assistance; and 3) partnerships and voluntary programs. We believe these strategies for the future, in proper proportions, will significantly improve compliance and injury and illness reductions.
- Let's start with enforcement ...
- A strong enforcement program underlies everything else we do ... and where we must use enforcement to get employers' attention ... we will ... Since we have limited resources, we must identify those employers where this strategy is the only way ... and then make it stick.
- Recently, we have refined and expanded our strong, fair and effective enforcement program. We pledged we'd do 36,400 inspections this year ... the highest total in 8 years ... and we're on target to meet that goal.
- We've promised to add another 1,300 in 2003 ... and we'll meet that challenge as well.
- Our targeting efforts ... identifying 13,000 sites that need to improve ... and conducting inspections at those with the highest injury and illness rates ... are making a difference.
- Final numbers are not in yet ... but so far ...at nearly 75% of the workplaces we've inspected, we've found serious, repeat or willful violations. That means we're going to the right places ... and we're delivering the right message ... the safety and health of your employees is critical ... And you need to change ... Now!
- No company should wait for an OSHA inspection to take action to protect its employees. And employers that do are going to find themselves facing an average penalty of more than $900 per serious violation. That's not going to bankrupt anyone ... but I hope it's significant enough to get the attention of the site manager or the CEO. It's higher than in past years.
- It's our job to make sure they get the message ... the one I know we all agree on ... this is not about money ... it's about a safe workplace, about people ...
- Our purpose is not to visit sites to collect money for the government. Our job is to create change where it is needed ... to assure a safe workplace. We are developing strategies for dealing with recalcitrant employers.
- What really disappoints me is that the violations we're citing are the same ... Over the past four years, the very same violations have made our top 5 list each year. Oh, the order differs a little from year to year, but it's the same 5 ... scaffolds, hazard communication, fall protection, respiratory protection and lockout/tagout.
- We don't want to see those same violations ... and we don't want to go back to the same places ... we want what we do to result in change... real, lasting change ... fewer hazards ... and most importantly fewer injuries and illnesses and no lives lost.
- One of the changes that OSHA has made is paring down its regulatory agenda ... I know it has raised a few eyebrows. We've stopped publishing a lengthy "wish list" and started putting out a realistic "to-do" list. We want every one to know what we're really working on over the next 12 months.
- And you can hold us accountable for those milestones. The old agenda was not a management tool. What was on the agenda -- in years past or any new items -- can be added back when we actually are ready to work on it.
- We now have a reasonable list ... And we're moving forward on that list. Since May, we've begun the regulatory process on cranes and derricks and chromium. We're taking another look at glycol ethers. And we've published a final standard on signs and barricades to protect highway construction workers.
- Standards and enforcement form the foundation -- and we will pursue them ... but there may be quicker, effective ways to reduce injuries and illnesses ... and we must perfect those strategies to make the biggest impact we can. The first is outreach, education and compliance assistance -- the persuasive advocacy that Dr. Alice Hamilton was so good at doing.
- We've promised to expand assistance for those who want to do the right thing. And we're keeping that promise in a number of ways.
- One of the areas that demand our attention is the need to reach immigrant workers, particularly Spanish-speaking workers. Even as overall workforce fatalities have fallen, deaths among Hispanic workers rose 12% in 2000.
- We've taken a number of steps to reach out to Hispanic workers ...
Our toll-free help line ... 1-800-321-OSHA ... offers assistance in English
and Spanish ... We now have a Spanish web page .... We have a Spanish version of All About OSHA ... We're publishing a new brochure for workers and community and faith-based groups that describes OSHA services -- all in Spanish ... We are not the INS.
- Our Hispanic Task Force is meeting regularly to identify additional strategies ... We have a partnership with the Hispanic Contractors of America to work together on outreach ... And we have to do more.
- Like Dr. Hamilton did, we need to dig deeper into the issue of high injury and illness rates among immigrant workers. Several months ago, we decided to begin collecting information during fatality/catastrophe investigations on languages spoken and nationality of workers.
- Preliminary data show that immigrants or workers who primarily speak another language were involved in more than 20 percent of the deaths we've investigated.
- That indicates we need to zero in on this group in our outreach and education efforts. We're going to be keeping very close tabs on this data. But already, it's clear that language may play a significant role in worker deaths ... and we need to find ways to address that.
- OSHA has another outreach effort that might interest you ... QuickTakes - our e-mail news memo ... Launched in March, we already have nearly 19,000 subscribers.
- If you haven't signed on, I urge you to do so-it's free and it's fast ... just 2 pages every 2 weeks, and in 2 minutes you can keep track of safety and health issues that OSHA is working on. Sign up at www.osha.gov and it will come to your email address.
- Another important strategy for reducing injuries and illnesses is partnerships. A critical aspect of this is youth programs -- we need to do more with safety and health in the schools.
- Of course, our premier partnership program is the Voluntary Protection Programs. Two weeks ago, I spoke to the VPP Participants Association conference. This year VPP celebrates its 20th anniversary. We're very proud of the 864 sites recognized by that program for their exemplary safety and health programs.
- But OSHA covers 7 million sites -- so 864 is a tiny, tiny fraction of that number -- not 1% but 1/100th of 1%. We need many, many more sites on the road to excellence.
- So, I challenged those who've already reached excellence to help us make a quantum leap -- from 800+ sites ... to 8,000 sites. I would challenge you as well ... as safety and health professionals. Help us draw more workplaces -- big and small -- on to the pathway to excellence in workplace safety and health.
- We do have a plan to make this leap ... a strategy for dramatically expanding sites in VPP. We've tentatively called it "jump start." We haven't worked out all the details yet. But the idea is to set up an entry-level program for companies ready to make the commitment to excellence in safety and health ... but who still have a ways to go to achieve excellence.
- VPP works. Thousands of injuries and illnesses have been avoided. And because it is so successful, we must make sure it is not used as a lever. We cannot as true safety and health professionals trade lives and injuries and illnesses for something else.
- As we expand VPP, we are going to expand our strategic partnerships. We now have 139 such partnerships involving more than 6,200 employers and covering nearly 216,000 workers.
- We've also created a new form of partnership ... alliances. Alliances focus on getting out the word on the value of safety and health. Alliances may include one or more elements such as training and education, outreach and communication or promoting the national dialogue on workplace safety and health.
- We signed our first alliance earlier this year with the Hispanic Contractors Association. We now have six alliances, with four more to be signed within the next few weeks. We're looking for many, many more to follow. The purpose is to sign on others to work with us on reducing injuries and illnesses -- particularly professional societies.
- Let's turn now to some of the important specific issues that the agency is addressing ... like ergonomics.
- This past spring, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced a new 4-pronged approach to address musculoskeletal disorders. It includes industry-specific guidelines, enforcement through the general duty clause, outreach and assistance and research recommendations with the help of an advisory committee.
- Our goal is simple. Musculoskeletal disorders represent one-third of the injuries American workers experience every year. And we want to reduce those numbers as quickly as possible. I believe the plan the Secretary has outlined is the best way to do that. Let me make something very clear: reducing ergonomic hazards is not voluntary.
- I want to tell you about our progress in implementing this plan. First, we have identified three industries so far for OSHA guidelines - nursing homes, retail groceries and poultry processors. Our draft guidelines for nursing homes came out the end of last month-and comments are due by September 30. A number of people have asked us to extend the comment period, and we're considering those requests.
- Once the comment period closes, we'll schedule a stakeholder meeting to gather additional input and issue the final guidelines. We expect to have final guidelines for nursing homes and draft guidelines on retail groceries and poultry processing completed by the end of the year.
- In addition to the guidelines we're developing, we're looking to individual industries to work on guidelines of their own ... and some are beginning to do that. Last week, I signed an agreement with the American Furniture Manufacturers Association and the state of North Carolina. AFMA has agreed to work with North Carolina to develop its own set of ergonomics guidelines for furniture manufacturing. We're looking to other industries to do the same.
- On enforcement ... this summer we issued a national emphasis inspection program for nursing homes. There will be a number of issues involved here, including ergonomics.
- I want to be very clear here. We will not be enforcing guidelines. And we will not institute special inspection programs for every industry that we develop guidelines for. But we will be looking at ergonomics ... and we will focus our efforts on those companies that have not acted in good faith.
- As part of our outreach and assistance effort, we're updating and expanding our ergonomics webpage. We're developing additional interactive software -- eTools we call them. And we'll be working through alliances to further spread information on best practices. That's the primary purpose of our alliance with the printing and graphic arts industry, for example. They help spread the word and achieve implementation in their industry.
- We're moving forward on the research prong as well. We expect to announce our advisory committee and hold the first meeting very soon.
- We have a number of strategies to take us into the future. We have a team working diligently on a new strategic plan to chart our path. You will be pleased with our plan. And we are putting in place new performance measurements to help us track our progress in achieving our goals as we implement our new organizational structure.
- As you know, any organization is only as good as the people who power it. And we have good people in OSHA, very good people. And we're working on ways to empower them to become even better.
- We're doing some restructuring to better configure the agency in line with Secretary Chao's goals and to help us do our jobs faster, better and more efficiently. We've added an Office of Small Business Assistance to better address the needs of the 80 percent of U.S. companies that are small businesses.
- We've combined our health standards and safety standards groups to form one new office -- the Directorate of Standards and Guidance. In addition to developing standards, this office will be planning, developing and managing non-regulatory approaches. We will work more closely with NIOSH on several fronts, including surveillance as Dan mentioned.
- We're also working to expand training opportunities for our staff. We've launched a certification program for OSHA's safety and health staff to encourage our people to become CSPs and CIHs. We're looking for a 15% increase in certifications.
- We are enhancing our compliance officers' training overall -- rethinking, upgrading and improving the programs we offer. And soon we'll be doing that in a new, larger facility outside Chicago with state-of-the-art resources to improve our training further.
- In some ways, OSHA has an impossible task -- we cover 7 million employers with 111 million workers in hundreds of different industries. I'm sure that the task set before Dr. Hamilton -- exploring the links between work and health -- seemed impossible also. To meet this challenge we must work together.
- Dr. Hamilton pioneered in finding problems. Those of us who follow in her footsteps must find solutions. Our standard is high ... no deaths on the job and an injury and illness rate sloping to zero.
- But it's been said that by asking for the impossible, we attain the possible ...
- We CAN save lives.
- We CAN reduce injuries and illnesses.
- Dr. Hamilton's "shoe leather" research confirmed her theories about the link between exposures at work and subsequent illness. Today, thanks to her work, her theories are commonly accepted truth.
- I also have a theory ... and I'd like to see us work together to test it. My theory is that there is a greater commitment to providing a safe and healthful working environment than ever before ... and if we reach out to employers, to workers, to professionals, to associations, working together we can achieve results that are greater than the sum of our individual efforts.
- As we remember the achievements of Dr. Hamilton, I challenge you to work with me to fulfill her dream, OSHA's mandate, and our pledge as safety and health professionals ... to provide a safe and healthful work environment for every American worker.