John L. Henshaw
Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor
The Second China International Forum on Work Safety
Beijing, P.R. China
September 2, 2004
- Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I am very pleased and honored to be here today. It has only been two months since I accompanied U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao on her visit to China in June. She sends her greetings.
- During that historic visit, China and the U.S. signed four letters of understanding covering labor technical cooperation. One of those letters focuses on occupational safety and health. Our delegation is looking forward to beginning our work under that agreement for the benefit of workers in both our countries.
- We share with China the goal of reducing injuries, illnesses and deaths on the job. Both countries are making progress, but we still face challenges in keeping our workers safe and healthy at work. Today's forum provides excellent opportunities for countries to share common experiences and unique solutions in the area of workplace safety and health. I look forward to candid discussions and exchanges.
- Since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1970 within the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace deaths in America have been reduced by more than 60%, even though U.S. employment has more than doubled. Occupational injury and illness rates have been cut in half.
- This means we have made progress, but it does not mean we have achieved our goal. Our goal is very simple. We want zero injuries, illnesses and deaths on the job. I know China shares this goal.
- Representing the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has agreed to work with China's State Administration of Work Safety on several specific areas:
- Enforcement of safety and health laws and regulations
- Emergency response procedures for accidents and incidents
- The role of private insurance programs in promoting safety and health on the job
- Raising public awareness on workplace safety and health laws and regulations
- Collecting and analyzing safety and health data
- Regulations and inspections related to hazardous chemical production, handling and distribution
- This is an historic agreement. It covers many important issues. And I am delighted to return to China and eager to help identify practical strategies that can be implemented right away.
- For that reason I have brought with me a team of technical experts. Over the next several days, they will meet with their Chinese counterparts to determine our next steps together.
- Both China and the U.S. value our workers. We want to preserve their health and protect their lives.
- In the U.S., we have learned that safety and health add value: To your business. To your workplace. To your life. We need to deliver this message in both human and economic terms.
- For workers, safety and health adds value by preventing death, injuries, and illness. The cost of the loss of a loved one is impossible to measure, but the loss in family income, social stress, negative impact on families and the community is immense.
- There is also a matter of simple justice. We do not want to buy products or services created at the expense of workers' health. We do not want workers to endanger their lives to earn their living.
- Business also receives value for promoting safety and health in the workplace. It is the right thing to do, and it improves business economies.
- When workers stay healthy and whole, businesses prosper. They experience lower costs, higher quality, increased productivity, better worker morale and reduced turnover.
- Business also benefits from an enhanced corporate reputation as a caring, responsible employer. In an age of globalization, a company's reputation is not simply confined to one nation. In a global economy, your good name -- or your poor example -- may be known around the world.
- The best companies in the United States, in China and throughout the world build a brand reputation that is synonymous not only with excellent products. A good brand is also associated with good labor practices and standards. The market economy likes to do business with responsible employers who value workers.
- Those of us in government and private safety organizations have an opportunity to help employers -- large and small -- realize value in safety and health. Responsible employers set high standards, comply with the law and continuously improve worker safety and health.
- To help realize this value and improve our economy in the U.S., OSHA wants to drive occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths down. As I said earlier, there is only one number that is acceptable. And that is zero.
- In the U.S., we focus on results -- reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities. We do that via three strategies:
- Strong, fair and effective enforcement
- Outreach, education and compliance assistance
- Partnerships and cooperative programs
- We are very fortunate in the United States that when Congress enacted and the President signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, we were given plenty of tools to do our job. By using these tools effectively we can make a significant impact on workplace conditions -- our number 1 goal. First, we have strong standards on recording occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
Outreach, Education and Compliance Assistance
- The first strategy is strong, fair and effective enforcement. A strong enforcement program underlies everything else we do. Where we must use enforcement to get employers' attention, we will.
- Our enforcement must be fair. It must be strong. It must be consistent. It must be effective -- meaning it reduces injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
- Since OSHA has limited resources, and we can't visit all workplaces, we must begin by identifying employers with the most injuries and illnesses. These are the workplaces that need our intervention and need to come into compliance with safety and health requirements.
- We have developed a site-specific targeting program that identifies 13,000 sites each year that need improvement, based upon the injury and illness statistics. Each of these sites receives a letter from me stressing the importance of doing a better job of protecting workers from injury and illness. We then conduct inspections at the workplaces with the highest injury and illness rates.
- Federal OSHA conducts about 37,000 inspections each year focusing on the most dangerous workplaces and places where workers have complained about dangers and where fatalities occur. We investigate all work-related fatalities. State safety and health programs conduct an additional 59,000 inspections. So, together, we conduct nearly 100,000 inspections each year.
- Our goal is to get employers to correct hazards before they result in injuries or illnesses. We want to be catalysts for positive change in the workplaces. We tell our inspectors that if we are going back to the same workplaces time and again we are not doing our job.
- OSHA should be helping employers alter their workplaces so that we don't have to return. We want lasting change -- fewer hazards and fewer injuries, illnesses and deaths. This is a measure of our success.
- Let me give you an example -- Car Component Technologies in New Hampshire. This business makes car axles. Following an OSHA inspection, the company got serious about safety and health. As a result, they've reduced serious injuries by 50 percent -- or more! -- for EACH of the past three years. Serious injuries and illnesses have dropped from an average of 28 per 100 workers in 2000 to 2.3 per 100 workers in 2003. That's a decline from 175 injuries and illnesses to 12 among 550 workers -- all while maintaining the same level of production. Medical insurance costs also dropped by 75%. I would venture to say their other business parameters have also improved.
Partnerships and Cooperative Programs
- Our second strategy is effective education, outreach and compliance assistance -- helping employers comply with safety standards. Since OSHA inspects fewer than 2 percent of the businesses in the U.S. each year, we must use other means to reach employers and employees.
- Outreach and compliance assistance -- contacting employers and employees, providing helpful information, having staff available to answer questions, offering training -- are key parts of our strategy. We want to use these tools to leverage the resources that we can devote to safety and health by spreading information to thousands of people.
- OSHA has nearly 70 offices located throughout the U.S. Each of these offices employs a compliance assistance specialist -- someone who provides information as well as safety and health expertise to the community. The specialists make presentations to employers and workers organizations, respond to requests for assistance from community and faith-based groups, and alert the public to other forms of safety and health assistance.
- We also make training, interactive software and a tremendous amount of information available on OSHA's Website at www.osha.gov. People all over the world who are interested in occupational safety and health can access this information.
- OSHA's site contains all of our regulations, news releases, enforcement policies, publications and other information as well as links to other sites that deal with safety and health. We expect more than 50 million visitors to our website this year.
- OSHA's Training Institute, located near Chicago, trains thousands of inspectors and other government safety personnel. We also train private sector individuals who then go on to teach others what they have learned about safety. Last year more than 300,000 students received training in basic occupational safety and health by trainers who got their original training from us.
- We also have 20 education centers at 35 sites around the country -- primarily at universities and two-year technical colleges. These centers offer safety and health courses to the private sector, companies and workers and other government agencies. And we have nonprofit groups that receive grants to develop additional training materials for employers and employees.
- We are also improving our staff competencies by increased training and focusing on professional certification.
- In the U.S., we offer many opportunities to work cooperatively with employers and employees. For small businesses, we offer a free consultation service. This service is similar to an inspection but provides no citations or penalties.
- Consultation professionals help companies and workers identify potential hazards in their workplaces and suggest methods of removing the dangers. Workplaces that establish effective safety and health programs following consultations are eligible for recognition and exemption from inspections for up to two years.
- Let me give you an example of the results of one of these consultations. In 1996, an envelope-manufacturing company in Worcester, Massachusetts, requested a free OSHA consultation after it received a letter from OSHA about its high injury rates. Since the 1996 consultation, the company reduced its lost workday injury rate from above average to about half the average for its industry.
- Also, Worcester Envelope has cut medical claims and expenses for injuries among its 250-employee workforce by 80% by finding and fixing hazards and re-engineering plant processes to make them safer. Today, OSHA recognizes Worcester Envelope -- and 800 similar companies -- for excellent safety and health programs.
- Another partnership program -- OSHA's Alliance Program -- provides a platform for trade associations, unions and individual companies to work cooperatively to promote occupational safety and health through dialogue, outreach and training. We have more than 220 Alliances.
- As part of an Alliance with the Society of the Plastics Industry, OSHA and SPI have conducted joint workshops and training on machine safety for injection molding equipment. Under another Alliance, Dow Chemical is developing business case studies that demonstrate the business value of safety and health. The Alliance with the American Pyrotechnics Association has produced a fact sheet and a poster to promote safety in the fireworks industry.
- The agency also is involved in more than 200 Strategic Partnerships. Across the U.S. nearly 6,000 employers and about 375,000 employees currently participate. Strategic partnerships focus specifically on building and improving safety and health management systems. This is a great opportunity to work in concert with trade and labor groups to foster effective systems in the workplace to address safety and health issues.
- In 2002, OSHA established one of these partnerships with AMEC Construction to preventing injuries at the $425 million rebuilding and renovation construction project for New York City's Museum of Modern Art.
- This partnership featured daily safety inspections, safety committee meetings and an on-site incentive program for the 17 contractors and 220 employees at the site. The results: serious injuries 90% below the industry average and total injuries and illnesses 92% below the industry average!
- OSHA's premier partnership program is the Voluntary Protection Program or VPP for short. Workplaces with outstanding safety and health programs partner with OSHA and are exempt from enforcement. We have 1,115 VPP sites.
- One of my personal goals has been to find a way to greatly expand participation dramatically because this program is the most effective way to assure a safe and healthful workplace. Companies in VPP have injury and illness rates more than 50 percent below the averages for their industries.
- The reason is simple. The Voluntary Protection Programs focus on going beyond OSHA requirements by making safety and health an integral part of a company's culture. Innovation and creativity -- finding ways to do the job better and more effectively, which by cultural definition includes safety and health -- occurs each and every day in these workplaces.
- VPP provides incentives and drives higher performance.
- As part of the OSHA/SAWS agreement, we plan to talk tomorrow about some of the things we have done to improve safety and health and business value. Through these technical cooperative activities, we hope we can learn more on how to improve workplaces in the U.S. as well as impart some of our successes to the Chinese government.
- We want safe and healthful working environments for workers in both our countries. I trust that as technical experts from our two countries work together over the next few days, we will develop some clear and specific goals and a draft action plan for moving forward with our strategies.
- The principles I have spoken about today -- promoting the added value of safety and health; strong, fair enforcement; partnerships and voluntary programs; training and outreach -- are universally applicable. They can and are being used in many nations and in all kinds of companies from small businesses to multi-national corporations.
- We are convinced that the most effective approach to safety and health is a balanced one -- with strong and effective enforcement plus outreach and compliance assistance and partnership and cooperative efforts.
- All of us at this conference have come to Beijing for one reason. We want to help keep workers safe and healthy. As an industrial hygienist, that has been my goal throughout my professional life. It is my fervent personal desire as well.
- What we do can make a difference. And we all have a critical role to play. There is great truth in the old proverb: No matter how big, one beam cannot support a house. I look forward to sharing and supporting our vital safety and health work together.