Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - Table of Contents
• Information Date: 09/09/2004
• Presented To: International Congress on Labour Inspections Mexico City, Mexico
• Speaker: John L. Henshaw


John L. Henshaw
Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor
International Congress on Labour Inspections
Mexico City, Mexico
September 9, 2004

(As Prepared for Delivery)

  • I am very pleased and honored to be here today -- to join you in discussing the process of workplace inspections. I want to commend Mexico for taking the pro-active step of holding this conference and focusing on this very important topic.

  • I want to thank my good friends Manuel Rodriguez-Arriaga and Mario Hernandez-Gallardo for extending an invitation to speak at this conference to not only learn best practices on workplace inspections from other countries in the Americas and Europe, but also to give the audience an idea how we organize and execute our inspection process in the United States.

  • I also want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the Mexican Foreign Ministry for helping us reach Mexican workers working in the United States. Through a letter of agreement that was signed on July 21 this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is partnering with the 45 Mexican consulates in the U.S. to reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths among Mexican workers in our country.

  • The consulates will help Mexican workers in the U.S. understand OSHA's role, the worker's role and the employer's role in assuring workplace safety and health in our country.

  • Over the past two years, Mexico, Canada and the U.S. have been working together through the Tri-National Occupational Safety and Health Working Group of Government Experts on a variety of issues, including inspector training.

  • Through the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) - a supplemental agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - United States, Mexico and Canada are working to improve working conditions throughout North America. If you would like additional information on the progress being made by Tri-National OSH Working group, log on to http://www.naalcosh.org.

  • Not yet on the Website - just a few weeks ago, the training subgroup of the OSH working group sponsored a three-day seminar in Mexico City on best practices in ergonomics in the automotive industry. OSHA also provided course materials to Mexico on machine guarding and pressure vessels and boilers for inspector training held here a month ago. In August 2003, OSHA staff also offered two courses in Mexico City that focused on electrical power general and fire protection. We also held a tripartite seminar on best practices in the construction industry as part of our OSH Working Group session in Mexico City in late August 2003.

  • The OSH Working Group is meeting again next week in New Orleans at the National Safety Congress. At that time, the training subgroup will begin planning for a 2005 workshop for inspectors to be held in the U.S. This workshop would address Mexican worker issues in the U.S. and our broader Hispanic cultural issues in the United States.

  • There are some great possibilities for joint training in the future. But I am glad to see that Mexico is moving forward today to help us all explore a variety of inspection strategies and programs that are proving effective around the world.

  • In the U.S., the focus for all our safety and health efforts is the triple bottom line: reducing injuries, illnesses and deaths on the job. And our goal is zero. We are far from reaching that goal, but we are making significant progress.

  • Since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1970 within the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace deaths in the U.S. 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.

  • We believe the best way to continue and even accelerate this downward trend in workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities is through a balanced approach among three strategies:

    1. Strong, fair and effective enforcement

    2. Outreach, education and assistance

    3. Partnerships and cooperative programs

  • Since this Congress is about inspection and enforcement, I will focus most of my remarks today to that area. But I would like to briefly comment that we continue to expand our outreach, education and assistance: through an extensive website; through nearly 70 compliance assistance specialists who work directly with employers and workers across the U.S.; through publications, an electronic newsletter, a 1-800 helpline; through thousands of safety and health trainers educating hundreds of thousands of workers and employers; and through free consultation services.

  • I am also convinced that expanding partnerships and alliances with trade organizations, unions and with individual employers and their workers has resulted safer and healthier workplaces with less injuries, illnesses and deaths.

  • Now let me talk more extensively about enforcement and the inspection process. Enforcement is the very foundation of all our efforts without which our outreach, education, assistance and partnership would not be effective. Like any enforcement program, we cannot inspect every workplace every year. In reality, we only inspect about 2% of the businesses in the United States each year.

  • Federal OSHA conducts nearly 38,000 inspections each year, focusing on the most dangerous workplaces and places where workers have pointed out specific problems. State safety and health programs conduct an additional 59,000 inspections. So, together, we conduct nearly 100,000 inspections.

  • If an inspector identifies violations of safety and health standards during the inspection, OSHA issues citations to the employer or business owner. Civil penalties range from zero to as much as $70,000 per violation - depending on whether the violations are classified as other-than-serious, serious, repeat or willful.

  • Last year at the 39,800 inspections federal OSHA conducted, we identified about 83,500 violations - nearly three-quarters were serious, willful or repeat violations. Total penalties added up to more than $82 million. The average penalty for a serious violation is about $945.

  • Since we are focused on the maximum return on our enforcement effort (which is injury, illnesses and fatality reduction) and since our resources allow us to inspect only 2% of all workplaces each year, we need a process to identify those workplaces where our enforcement effort can achieve maximum results. We have developed a site-specific targeting program to focus our programmed inspections.

  • Each year, we survey about 80,000 employers across the country in high-hazard industries. We calculate injury and illness rates and then identify about 14,000 workplaces with the highest rates. These are the sites in our programmed inspection list. Each of these sites receives a letter from me alerting them that they are on our site-specific targeting list. We also list them on our webpage!

  • Our goal is to get employers to correct hazards before they result in injuries or illnesses. The good news is that a recent study of site-specific targeting shows that it works. It's definitely better than the more general targeting programs we had before. Those old programs just zeroed in on high hazard industries rather than specific, individual worksites where there were many injuries and illnesses.

  • The study showed that companies that received our letter, but no inspection after we wrote to them, reduced injuries and illnesses about 5% over the three years following the letter. But the sites that were actually inspected had injury and illness declines ranging from 12 to 13.8% over the three years following our inspection.

  • The message is very simple: warnings and encouragement to change produce some improvement, and enforcement creates even greater positive change in the workplace. And that's what we want. We want employers to make changes that produce results -- fewer injuries and illnesses.

  • We also have other strategies for targeting our inspections. We target our health inspections based on our experience and knowledge of where specific health hazards are likely. We also have a separate targeting program for construction inspections, based on business reports that indicate where construction work is in progress.

  • In addition, we have five National Emphasis Programs. These focus on specific safety and health issues including amputations, lead, silica, ship breaking and trenching. We identify industries where these concerns are present and then conduct inspections at workplaces within the industries. We're also working on a new program that will address occupational asthma.

  • Also, our 10 regional offices and our 67 local offices can develop their own Local Emphasis Programs. We have more than 140 of these in place. For example, they include such issues as falls in construction, auto body shops, fish processing, nursing homes, oil and gas well servicing and dry cleaning plants.

  • More than half of our inspections are directly related to our targeting programs. Other inspections result from complaints and fatal accidents or referrals from other state or federal agencies.

  • Our goal is to execute a strong, fair and effective enforcement program. To be effective we must focus our finite resources on those workplaces where we can achieve the greatest return on the "triple bottom line" -- reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

  • In addition to focusing on the right workplaces, we need to ensure that each inspection is a high-quality inspection. That means that we need highly qualified -- highly trained inspectors.

  • OSHA has an extensive training program for its inspectors at the OSHA Training Institute in the Chicago area. We also provide training to state inspectors and consultants and personnel from other federal agencies.

  • Each year, we train over 3,000 people through the 15 full-time instructors we have and about 100 consultants hired for specific expertise, on topics such as trenching or grain handling or telecommunication towers. We're currently offering 100-120 courses at the Training Institute every year.

  • We are continually developing new courses to meet the needs of our inspectors. Late next month, we'll offer a new Criminal Investigation course.

  • In the U.S., when a worker death on the job is related to a willful violation of safety and health standards, the employer can face criminal charges as well as the civil penalties I mentioned earlier. This can include additional fines and even time in jail. The new course will help our inspectors with collection and preservation of evidence and interviewing techniques needed to sustain criminal cases.

  • Most of our inspectors start their careers with OSHA with university degrees in industrial hygiene, biology, chemistry or engineering. Some, particularly construction specialists, come to us with years of experience working in the safety field in industry. Others join us after working as industrial hygienists or safety specialists in the private sector or in state or other federal agencies.

  • New inspectors take five core courses - about eight weeks of training - over the first two years. Each of these classes is offered four times each year.

  • In addition, most offices require inspectors to take a minimum of two additional weeks of training each year - either at the Training Institute or a local college or from a private vendor. We also encourage our inspectors to attend at least one professional conference - such as the National Safety Congress in New Orleans next week - every three years.

  • Over the last three years, we have emphasized the importance of seeking professional certification as a certified industrial hygienist or certified safety specialist -- or in a few cases as professional engineers or ergonomists.

  • Our inspectors are experts in their fields; professional certifications provide independent recognition and verification of that expertise. We have begun a program to provide funds for the specialized preparation and training our inspectors need to take the qualifying tests.

  • And certifications have increased. Three years ago, 114 OSHA staffers had professional certifications. Today, more than 300 do. We want to keep building on that base.

  • We are currently in the process of completely revising our curriculum for inspectors. Our new focus is on "core competencies." We've identified 20 critical competencies, and we're going to build our training program around the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics that are important for being an OSHA inspector.

  • The new training will probably be longer - 10 to 12 weeks instead of 8 weeks. Inspectors will also need to pass practical tests as well as written tests. For example, we might ask them to visit the construction lab at the Training Institute and "inspect" scaffolds there to see which are set up correctly and which would violate OSHA requirements.

  • We expect to start rolling out these improved training courses within the next year. We'll then use this approach as we revise other courses and develop new ones until all of our courses have been redesigned into this competency-based approach.

  • We hope that every OSHA inspection will have long-reaching consequences -- fewer injuries and illnesses for the workers at the sites we visit.

  • Let me give you just one example about the dramatic difference an OSHA inspection made at one workplace. The company is 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 is a decline from 175 injuries and illnesses to 12 in a workforce of about 550 workers - all the while maintaining the same level of production. And medical insurance costs also dropped during this period by 75%.

  • High quality inspections at companies with high injury and illness rates can make a significant difference in reducing injuries and illnesses and fatalities. This is what we all want out of our programs -- maximum return on our investment.

  • Our keys to success are:

    • Highly Trained / Skilled Professional Inspectors

    • Consistent and Value Add Inspection Processes and Procedures

    • Continuous Evaluation and Improvement

    • Focus on Results "Triple Bottom Line"

    • Achieve Maximum " Return on Investment"

  • OSHA must always look for better ways to achieve success and our maximum return on our taxpayers' investment. That is what makes this Congress so important - we come to learn and improve.

  • All of us here today share the same goals -- improving our enforcement efforts to achieve fewer injuries, illnesses and deaths on the workplace. We know that enforcement is one of the many tools we have at our disposal to achieve results but without strong, fair and effective enforcement our other tools like outreach, education, compliance assistance and voluntary programs will not be effective.
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