Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 03/08/2006
• Presented To: Occupational Safety & Health Law Committee
• Speaker: Jonathan L. Snare
• Status: Archived

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
Assistant Secretary of Labor Jonathan L. Snare
Occupational Safety & Health Law Committee
2006 Midwinter Meeting -- American Bar Association
Santa Barbara, California
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Thank-you, Scott [Dunham] and good morning, everyone!

I'm pleased to see so many familiar faces here. The last time we met, I was just a couple of months into my job as Acting Assistant Secretary. Since then, I've had the pleasure of working with many of you. Thank-you for sharing your expertise and insights.

I'm especially happy to be here in sunny Santa Barbara today for at least two reasons: One, it's been really cold all through February on the East Coast, so it's nice to feel temperatures above freezing for a change; and second, I'm glad I'm here because this is one of the rare meetings I get to attend where it's an advantage to be a lawyer. Certainly you've given me a much warmer welcome than I've had in the last two weeks in Washington, D.C., while I've talked at various briefings and meetings about the new rule on Hexavalent Chromium. So: Thank-you for the warm reception. I appreciate the invitation to talk to you today.

Clearly it's been an interesting and challenging year for OSHA. I'm here to give you a concise update on my Agency's activities and, believe me, we've been busy! I think we can be proud of what we've accomplished in just one year. Let's begin at the top...

OSHA Leadership

As you all know, last September President George Bush named Ed Foulke to take over the helm of OSHA. Ed is a former Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission chairman and he's currently an attorney with Jackson Lewis in South Carolina. He was voted out of the Senate HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee today, and we're hoping for full Senate confirmation soon.

You know, it occurs to me that I have a tempting opportunity here -- to stand before you today and commit my successor and future boss to all kinds of promises!

But seriously, here's one pledge my successor will keep: I want to assure everyone that the new Assistant Secretary of Labor will see to it that the Agency continues to fulfill the mission it was assigned 35 years ago when President Nixon created OSHA: working to protect the safety and health of America's workers.

OSHA's success rests very much on its regional administrators, and I want to acknowledge the recently retired administrator for OSHA's region 6, based in Dallas. John Miles, who is on the agenda for Friday, was very much involved in two of OSHA's biggest activities in 2005: the British Petroleum case and our response to the recovery efforts following the hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. I want to thank John for his years of service to his country, and to recognize his dedication to worker safety and health

Now temporarily stepping into the position vacated by John -- while OSHA seeks a permanent regional administrator -- is the regional administrator from our San Francisco office, Frank Strasheim. And Chris Lee, assistant regional administrator for Region IX, who is here today, is filling in for Frank as the acting Regional Administrator. Thank you, Chris.

Well, a lot has happened in '05 -- including hurricanes, the release of a major health standard, the largest number of citations and the largest fines levied in a single case in OSHA's history, and steps we're taking to prepare for a possible pandemic that could have a huge impact on our workplaces and our communities.

Let's look at what's happening in OSHA:

Big Issues for '05 and '06

#1: Hex Chrome update
Last week, on February 28, 2006, OSHA published in the Federal Register a final standard for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium in general industry, construction and shipyards. About 558,000 workers are covered by the provisions of the new standard.

On OSHA's web page we've posted the complete final standard along with a wealth of supporting information -- including a summary of the standard and frequently asked questions. On our Health Topics Page we detail the health effects of hexavalent chromium, we explain how to recognize the hazard and evaluate exposure, and we provide links to more resources. I encourage everyone to visit our web pages to learn more.

OSHA has worked hard to produce a standard that substantially reduces the significant health risks for employees exposed to hex chrome compounds -- the PEL was reduced from 52 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The new PEL is the lowest level that is feasible both economically and technologically. Our new standard protects workers to the extent feasible, while providing employers -- especially small employers -- adequate time to come into compliance.

We've done our work; now the lawyers will get to work! We're expecting lawsuits from all sides.

#2: Impersonating OSHA
By now you've all heard about how the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 48 illegal aliens in July 2005 during a raid at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. The illegal workers were arrested after gathering for an alleged mandatory OSHA meeting.

OSHA was not involved in this activity. When we learned of it -- after the fact -- we expressed our strong disapproval. The Departments of Labor and Homeland Security met to discuss this practice, and we have agreed that deceptions involving health and safety programs, such as OSHA, will not be used for immigration worksite enforcement.

You can be sure that OSHA will continue to work very hard to build trust with immigrant workers, including Hispanic workers, through the many efforts that we have found successful in greatly improving their health and safety in the workplace. In a few moments I'll tell you more about OSHA's outreach efforts; but, first, I want to mention three other significant issues that OSHA has been addressing

#3: Pandemic Flu preparedness
The next issue on my "big issues" list has been all over the news. OSHA and the Department of Labor are responding to the hazards of bird flu in the workplace, and we're preparing for the possibility that one strain of the avian influenza could mutate to a highly transmissible human virus and cause a pandemic illness likes of which hasn't been seen since 1918.

OSHA has already issued guidance for workers most likely to be exposed to the bird flu -- including farm workers, laboratory workers, medical personnel that transfer and treat avian flu patients, food handlers, and airline crews. Right now we're updating our March 2004 guidance, and a new one is expected soon.

Looking beyond the avian influenza activities to efforts to prevent exposure to pandemic human influenza, OSHA has been working under the leadership of the White House and in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agriculture Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security. In consultation with these government agencies, OSHA is developing pandemic preparedness guidelines for employers and employees.

#4: Standards for electric power transmission and distribution lines and equipment
The next big issue OSHA is looking at is our standards for work on electric power transmission and distribution lines and equipment. Currently, OSHA has two standards -- Subpart V of Part 1926, which covers the construction of these installations, and General Industry Section 1910.269, which covers generation, maintenance and repair. OSHA has proposed revisions to these standards that would (1) make them more consistent across various parts of the industry, (2) better reflect the current technology, and (3) revise the related standards for electrical protective equipment.

Employees performing work covered by these standards suffer 74 fatalities and 444 injuries annually. OSHA estimates that the proposed standard would reduce injuries and save lives.

Starting earlier this week and continuing through next Tuesday, March 14, OSHA is holding an informal public hearing on the proposed rule to update the existing standards. An Administrative Law Judge will set a post -- hearing comment period as well, and from this record we'll develop a final standard.

To date, two areas have received considerable comment: First, OSHA is proposing requirements that will ensure that electric utility and contract employers exchange information necessary to protect all employees working on electric power installations. Second, OSHA has proposed a rule that would protect employees from the hazards of burn injuries caused by electric arcs. The proposed standards would require employers to assess hazards from flames and arcs and select appropriate protective clothing.

I want to acknowledge the progress we've made working with the industry. In August 2004, OSHA signed a National Partnership under our Strategic Partnership Program. This partnership teams OSHA with 70 percent of the electrical transmission and distribution industry -- including individual companies and associations, a major union, and an industry institute. Together, we've identified the four leading causes of fatalities in the industry, we've created an industry-specific OSHA 10-hour course, and we've established a nationwide study on the safety and health culture of the industry.

#5: Katrina
The list of OSHA's big issues for 2005 wouldn't be complete without mentioning how the Agency faced -- and met -- one of the greatest challenges in its 35-year history.

In the days before hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma landed, OSHA employees were in contact with local utility offices in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas to offer our services and support, and to arrange pre-deployment safety briefings. In the wake of each of the hurricanes, OSHA teams rapidly moved in to consult with the crews engaged in the restoration of power lines, tree trimming, roof repair, debris removal, and work near roadways.

At its peak, OSHA had about 100 employees deployed to the affected areas -- a recovery site of 90,000 square miles spread over five states. By our latest count, OSHA employees have interacted with over 16,000 work crews and handed out nearly 57,000 safety and health technical assistance fact sheets. We estimate that OSHA's efforts have resulted in the removal of more than 56,000 workers from hazardous situations that could have led to serious injury or death.

Under the Worker Safety and Health Annex to the National Response Plan that was activated by FEMA, OSHA is the coordinating agency assigned to ensure that federal responders and contractors worked safely.

Standards and Guidances

At the beginning of my remarks I told you that it's been a busy year for OSHA. That's certainly so when it comes to issuing standards and guidances. I've already mentioned Hex Chrome, bird flu, and electrical power transmissions...

OSHA is also part of the United States' efforts to implement the Global Harmonization System (GHS) in this country. Right now, an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is in review, as well as a guidance document. A comparison of the GHS to the Hazard Communication standard is already completed and posted on the web, and OSHA is engaged in interagency discussions to coordinate implementation issues.

While on the subject of standards, I'll note that in April OSHA plans to publish a Request for Information seeking input from the public on emergency response and preparedness -- this is to help OSHA determine what actions it may need to take to update its current standards on emergency responder health and safety.

OSHA also intends to update all of its 200 -- plus consensus and industry standards that are incorporated by reference in over 500 places in our standards. Some of these consensus standards are over 40 years old and don't reflect improved safety equipment, machinery, and work practices being used today in industry. OSHA published the first final rule for consensus standards in September 2005, and we have several other consensus standard drafts in review.

OSHA is working on a number of new guidance products, for general industry, construction and the maritime industry.

2007 Budget

Last month I announced that President Bush has requested $483.7 million for OSHA in fiscal year 2007. The request represents an increase of $11.2 million over the final FY06 appropriations.

The proposed budget provides dollar increases necessary to support OSHA's current staff and activities, while providing increases for two new initiatives. First: $7.5 million to develop a safety and health information system that will replace OSHA's 15-year-old Management Information System. This new system will ensure our ability to measure results and provide accurate and timely information on all OSHA enforcement and compliance assistance programs.

Second: $2.6 million to expand outreach to Hispanic and non-English-speaking workers, as well as to workers involved in the hurricane cleanup and recovery operations along the Gulf Coast, with a focus on varying levels of literacy.

We believe the President's proposed budget will help OSHA maintain its balanced approach to workplace safety and health.

OSHA'S Balanced Approach

Our "balanced approach" means that OSHA pursues its mission to protect American workers with three components: (1) Strong, fair and effective enforcement; (2) outreach, education and compliance assistance; and (3) cooperative and voluntary programs.

Let's take a look at what was new in each of these three areas in 2005 and what's coming in 2006.

Enforcement

We begin with enforcement, which remains the foundation for reducing workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

We saw a very big example of enforcement last year:

Last fall we announced that BP Products North America Inc. agreed to pay more than $21 million in penalties for safety and health violations -- the largest citation and penalty issued in the history of OSHA. The settlement followed our investigation of an explosion on March 15 that resulted in the death of 15 workers and caused 170 injuries. OSHA's inspectors recorded 303 violations -- including five willful safety violations, two willful health violations, and 296 egregious willful violations. As part of the settlement, BP was required to take on a number of reforms. BP agreed to retain a process safety management firm, hire an expert to review its internal safety and health communications, and submit to "OSHA 300" logs every six months for three years. In addition, for three years the company must notify the OSHA area office of all lost workday incidents. This citation and penalty sends a clear message that OSHA takes its mission seriously. We will deal strongly with employers who fail to uphold their worker safety and health responsibilities.

OSHA has other enforcement tools that we're using effectively and efficiently to direct OSHA's resources to those establishments with the highest injury and illness rates. Rich Fairfax, who directs our enforcement programs, is on this morning's panel presentation about enforcement trends, moderated by Scott Dunham -- and Rich will tell you more about these enforcement tools. I'll just mention two of them:

OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting program -- SST -- is our main programmed inspection plan for non-construction worksites that have 40 or more employees. It is based on the data received from the prior year's OSHA Data Initiative survey, and it directs our enforcement resources to those worksites where the highest rates of injuries and illness have occurred. The SST-06 data is now being finalized. With very few changes from the SST-05, this year's program will go into effect and enforcement will start 60 days after OSHA sends out letters to almost 14,000 high-injury-rate employers -- which is very soon. The letters, which we send out every year, encourage these employers to use OSHA's free consultation service to improve their safety and health programs. Then, out of this group, about 4,000 employers with the highest injury rates will be targeted for inspection.

The other program I'll mention is OSHA's Enhanced Enforcement Program -- "EEP." EEP further sharpens our targeted approach to enforcement by focusing on employers who, despite OSHA's enforcement and outreach efforts, repeatedly ignore their OSH Act obligations, thereby placing their employees at risk. During FY2005, OSHA identified 591 inspections that qualified as EEP cases -- that's DOUBLE the number of the preceding year. Workplaces of employers that have been identified under the EEP, and which are also on the SST targeting lists, are bumped up in priority for inspection. One example of this effort is a recent inspection in Alabama: it began as an SST case, it led to an EEP case, and finally, three weeks ago, OSHA proposed penalties totaling over $300,000. In FY2005 alone, OSHA saw about 20 such inspections that started as SSTs and led to EEP cases.

You'll be interested to know that a key enforcement tool, our Field Inspection Reference Manual -- what we call the FIRM -- is going through its first major update since 1994. We're making it more user friendly and easier to navigate on the web, and it will incorporate other directives and policy memoranda.

OSHA has planned 37,700 workplace inspections throughout this fiscal year as we continue to focus our resources on workplaces and industries with high rates of injuries and illnesses. Enforcement works, and it's strengthened when supported by the complementary strategies of outreach and cooperative programs...

Outreach, Education and Compliance

As with enforcement, our outreach efforts are focused where help is needed most. We've been developing an ever-expanding offering of outreach materials for targeted industries in the form of QuickCards, Pocket Guides, Guidances, and fact sheets -- in both English and Spanish -- which we distribute in hard copy and post on our extensive web pages. We're continually updating our web pages, which present more than 200 different Safety and Health Topics Pages, many of which are also in Spanish.

Our OSHA Training Institute, just outside Chicago, continues to offer a wide array of training and education -- nearly 60 courses -- on safety and health issues for federal and state employees, consultants, and private sector employers, employees and their representatives. Last year 376,000 people took part in OSHA-sponsored training programs; that's an increase of 23 percent over 2004.

Cooperative and Voluntary Programs

The third part of our balanced approach at OSHA is provided by our cooperative and voluntary programs. Paula White, who directs these programs, is on a panel Friday morning discussing our state activities. Specific programs under her direction include our Alliance Program, our Strategic Partnerships, our On-site Consultations, and our Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program -- I won't go into detail, but I do want to mention a couple of efforts that have been making great progress in the last year:

Our Voluntary Protection Programs -- "VPP" -- is OSHA's premier cooperative program, representing the highest levels of commitment to occupational safety and health. VPP has been incredibly successful for both employers and OSHA. We've seen it grow by an average of 15 percent each year for the last five years with more than 1,400 federal and state plan VPP worksites now on board. VPP isn't just about model worksites recognized by OSHA; it's about the safety and health outreach performed by VPP participants. According to a recent study by Gallup, almost 70 percent of VPP sites in 2004 reported mentoring other sites who were candidates for VPP. That's progress!

Building on our success, in May 2004 we launched two pilot programs to increase participation in VPP -- VPP Corporate and OSHA Challenge. The VPP Corporate Pilot streamlines the VPP application and onsite evaluation process for corporations that make a corporate commitment to VPP. Currently, we have 3 corporations approved for VPP Corporate-Georgia Pacific, the U.S. Postal Service, and International Paper. Under this pilot program, 20 of their sites have successfully entered VPP.

The other pilot program, OSHA Challenge Pilot, provides a roadmap to VPP. It guides participants through the process of implementing an effective safety and health management system. Right now our Challenge Administrators and Coordinators are working with more than 60 participants to see how well they can shepherd their worksites toward VPP excellence.

Finally: Many of you are aware that OSHA is looking to apply VPP principles to the construction industry. You also probably know how difficult and complex the issues are, so I want to assure you that I'm personally committed to resolving the issues and launching a VPP for Construction.

OSHA at 35

Well, let me ask you: Have I argued a good case for our balanced approach to worker safety and health? I think I have. And so, allow me to deliver my summary:

In the three and a half decades since OSHA first opened its doors for this nation's workers, U.S. employment has more than doubled to 115 million workers at 7.2 million worksites.

Yet even with those substantial increases in the American workforce, we've seen significant reductions in injuries and illnesses. Also significant: Fatal workplace injuries for the last three years are among the lowest annual totals ever recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a moment I'll take a few questions from you. But before I close, let me again thank you for your warm reception. I'm glad to spend some time with you over the next couple of days. As a big fan of the movie "Sideways," I'm particularly looking forward to the wine tasting reception. For those of you who know the movie, I'll be the guy insisting on a glass of pinot noir.

I've given you a lot to think about this morning. If you come away with anything from my remarks, I hope you'll remember these three points:

First: OSHA encountered and responded to some extraordinary events in the last year -- including the largest citation and penalty we've ever issued, the worst disaster recovery operation our nation has seen since 9-11, and publication of a major new health standard;

Second: OSHA's balanced approach is succeeding. Over the past decade, workplace injuries and illnesses have fallen 40 percent, and the U.S. on-the-job fatality rate has hit historic lows for the past three years;

Third: OSHA is on the job today and every day as we remain committed to our 35-year-old mission to help protect America's workers.

Thank-you.

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.


Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents