Speeches - Table of Contents Speeches - Table of Contents
• Information Date: 06/12/2006
• Presented To: AMERICAN SOCIETY OF SAFETY ENGINEERS
• Speaker: Edwin G. Foulke Jr.


Remarks prepared for delivery
by Edwin G. Foulke Jr.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for
Occupational Safety and Health

AMERICAN SOCIETY OF SAFETY ENGINEERS
Annual Convention and Exposition

Seattle, Washington
Monday, June 12, 2006


Good afternoon, and thank-you for that gracious introduction.

I have been serving as the OSHA Administrator for just over ten weeks now, and it is an honor to speak to ASSE -- one of our nation's leading advocates for safer workplaces. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today about a subject that is near and dear to our hearts: the safety and health of every working man and woman in America.

In the last two months, I have given a number of speeches to safety groups, companies, and associations. I also have had the opportunity to meet the future leaders of this country -- from elementary school students to young people graduating from college.

We can learn from their honest look at safety and health, just as we can teach them what we have learned in the 35 years since OSHA, NIOSH and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission were founded.

Before these agencies came about, of course, there was ASSE ? which is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year. That really is something to celebrate, and so I want to begin by extending my congratulations to the membership of this great organization.

Thank-you for your commitment to workplace safety and health, thank-you for the professionalism you bring to your activities every single day, and thank-you for your support of OSHA over the years.

National Safety Month

I also want to extend my enthusiastic congratulations to the National Safety Council on the tenth anniversary of its National Safety Month: June 2006. I recognize that many ASSE members are also NSC members, and this is your month.

As part of National Safety Month 2006, the National Safety Council has designated the week of June 12-16 to emphasize workplace safety. OSHA applauds this focus and I know that ASSE joins us and the council in urging Americans to be vigilant to workplace hazards, to seek information from the council, ASSE and OSHA, and to share our resources with their families, friends, and workmates on the job.

OSHA enjoys an enduring and successful Alliance with ASSE, and I will conclude my remarks this afternoon with a look at what OSHA and ASSE have accomplished together.

But first, I want to tell you a little about myself.

Who I am; what I believe

This is my first opportunity to speak with you as the new Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA -- an appointment that makes me feel at the same time both proud and very humble. Leading OSHA is a big responsibility with such an important mission. Fortunately I can rely on the experience of OSHA's employees and the support and expertise of the members of ASSE.

I may be new to OSHA, but I am not new to occupational safety and health. In fact, I have dedicated my entire adult life to helping to reduce the number of people who die while trying to earn a living.

As you know, I was trained in labor law, not occupational safety. Yet the concept of "accident prevention" was instilled in me early and reaffirmed when I joined the Jackson Lewis law firm in South Carolina. The firm was founded on this concept of prevention, and it has been a strong part of my philosophy.

A specific incident also influenced me early in my law career. I was sent to a construction company to conduct employment training. On that very morning, an employee died on the site. This changed me forever. I knew from that moment on that my life's mission would be dedicated to safety and health.

So it appears that my appointment to OSHA by President Bush is, for me, a kind of "kismet," or destiny. Just as that workplace fatality early in my career touched my heart, I intend to use my position as OSHA's administrator to move the hearts of all employers in the nation to work toward continually improving the health and safety of their worksites.

I want to impress upon employers the need to protect their most valuable business asset -- their employees. I want to get the message out that the most effective safety and health strategy available is prevention. And I want people to know that the most reliable resource for help is OSHA.

Preview

I know I am preaching to the choir on a subject that you also care passionately about, so in the time we have together today I am going to present:
  • An update on some of OSHA's "big issues" that you are encountering in your own work,

  • Some motivational language I use when speaking to employers and employees on "the power of prevention," and

  • A look at OSHA's Alliance with ASSE.
Let me begin with an update of some big issues in OSHA. Number one is hexavalent chromium.

Big Issue #1: HexChrome

As everyone here is well aware, on February 28, we published in the Federal Register a final standard for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium in general industry, construction and shipyards. About 558,000 employees are covered by the provisions of the new standard.

On OSHA's web page we have posted the complete final standard along with a wealth of supporting information -- including a summary of the standard and frequently asked questions.

I know everyone is looking for a side-by-side comparison of the old and new standard, and guidance on implementing the standard in your workplaces. OSHA's standards and guidance staff are very close to posting this additional information soon on our web page, so please continue to visit our site for updates.

Let me add that OSHA worked hard to produce a standard that substantially reduces the significant health risks for employees.

We believe that the new standard protects employees to the extent feasible, while also providing employers adequate time to come into compliance.

Big Issue #2: Pandemic Flu Preparedness

Here is another major issue for OSHA that has been very much in the headlines recently ? the preparations being formulated by local, state and federal agencies to respond to the threat of pandemic influenza.

For almost a year, we have been preparing for the possibility that one strain of the avian influenza virus could mutate to a highly transmissible human virus. As most of you know, if this happens, it has the potential to cause a pandemic the likes of which has not been seen since 1918.

OSHA has already issued a guidance document for employees most likely to be exposed to the bird flu -- including people working in farms and laboratories, medical personnel who transfer and treat avian flu patients, food handlers, and airline crews. Right now we are updating our March 2004 guidance, and the new one is expected soon.

Looking beyond avian influenza to a 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, the Agriculture Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In consultation with these government agencies, OSHA is developing guidelines for employers and employees to prepare for -- and to follow -- should a pandemic arise.

I hope everyone has gone to the White House web site (www.whitehouse.gov) to become familiar with the latest news in this national defense effort. Posted there is a transcript of the press briefing, a fact sheet summarizing the implementation plan, and the full text of the plan. You will also find the definitive information at the web site: www.pandemicflu.gov.

Big Issue #3: Global Harmonization

I also have news this morning about OSHA's activities related to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, known as the "GHS."

OSHA has prepared an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to consider modifications to our Hazard Communication Standard to adopt the GHS in American workplaces.

The advance notice details how OSHA expects implementation of the GHS to affect the current requirements for hazard communication.

The public will be invited to provide input to help the Agency move forward on this issue.

We are particularly eager to obtain information needed to perform the economic analyses required to accompany the rule. The advance notice includes a number of questions to solicit the needed data. The advance notice of proposed rulemaking is in the final stages of review prior to publication in the Federal Register.

We hope to release it soon.

At the same time, we plan to make available a detailed guide that explains the GHS.

I hope that businesses, labor organizations, associations and individuals will respond to the advance notice and provide OSHA with the information we seek.

Big Issue #4: PELs

Maintaining standards that are up-to-date and reflect current technology is a daunting challenge for OSHA. As you know, the rulemaking process is long and complex. This helps to ensure that consideration is given to all views, and that a thorough data collection and analysis can be completed; but it also leads to a situation where standards are infrequently updated because the process is difficult to complete.

I know that many businesses have expressed an interest in updating permissible exposure limits (PELs). This is a topic that has been of interest to me for many years. I am looking forward to studying the many aspects of this issue to determine what may be done to meet the challenges and improve the situation.

Standards

As you all know, a major way that OSHA helps employers and employees is by providing workplace safety and health standards and guidance documents -- many of which are developed with the considerable assistance from members of ASSE.

In the area of health standards, OSHA's staff is continuing work on crystalline silica and beryllium, and a final rule establishing assigned protection factors for respiratory protection is in the final stages of review before publication.

In the area of safety standards, we are working on proposals for explosives and general working conditions in shipyards, and we are finalizing rules for electrical safety and vertical tandem lifts. We are also initiating another phase of our Standards Improvement Project, and we are continuing our efforts to update OSHA standards that are based on national consensus standards.

I also want to report to you that OSHA is participating in initiatives led by the White House to address issues related to nanotechnology, such as risk assessment and safety and health research. As information becomes available, OSHA plans to develop guidance for employers and employees engaged in operations involving nanomaterials, and OSHA is also working with NIOSH as they conduct research in this area.

Also in various stages of development are guidance projects on a wide range of topics These include emergency response and preparedness, design of buildings to address fire service concerns, and the hazards of scrap metal recycling.

As I just noted with PELs, the process of developing standards and moving through rulemaking is very complex. For this reason, OSHA is continuing to explore the use of guidance documents to help employers and employees improve working conditions in their workplaces.

Construction

Now let me put these big issues into perspective. Since OSHA's inception in 1971, work-related fatalities have decreased by 60 percent and injuries and illnesses are down 40 percent. I do not want to delve too far into numbers, but these are important.

In 1971, nearly 14,000 people died on the job. In 2004, the number was down to 5,700 people, despite the fact that twice as many people are working today, compared to 35 years ago. To put these numbers into context, if we still had a fatality rate as high as 1971, more than 23,000 people would have died in 2004.

Let me say as emphatically as I can: Although the overall numbers are good -- we are seeing historic lows, after all -- OSHA never loses sight of the fact that these statistics are people. In a single year, 5,700 people lost their lives, their dreams and their futures. It is a great tragedy that they died. More than 5,000 families lost a mother or a father, a sister or brother. Countless co-workers lost a colleague and a friend.

We are particularly concerned about the 8 percent rise in workplace fatalities that the construction industry experienced from 2003 to 2004, and so OSHA is taking numerous steps to reverse this deadly trend.

Over its three year existence, OSHA's trenching initiative has shown positive results -- including reduced trenching-related fatalities from 2004 to 2005, and greater awareness of trenching hazards through a massive outreach effort.

The Highway Work Zone Alliance continues to distribute its safety packages across the country to heighten awareness of the hazards and broadcast industry best practices.

The Drug-Free Workplace Alliance is a Department of Labor Alliance, which includes four organizations and OSHA. The success of this effort is attested to by the imminent signing of 11 additional national-level Alliance members.

Also, OSHA is undertaking a new residential fall protection initiative beginning with a case file study by the University of Tennessee's Construction Industry Research and Policy Center.

And, because we realize that limitations in language and literacy among construction workers make employees in this field especially vulnerable to workplace hazards, OSHA continues to produce more Spanish-language materials for the web and for distribution to employees and employers. We are working through our Alliances with Mexican embassies in cities throughout the United States to extend our reach to the people who need to hear our message the most, and we are also addressing the workplace safety and health needs of non-English-speaking employees through OSHA's Alliance with ASSE, which I will describe in just a few minutes.

Prevention

My focus at OSHA includes a concentrated effort to talk directly with employers. Whenever I meet with them, I remind them that it is every employer's responsibility to provide safe and healthy working conditions for their employees. I also point out to them that, in addition to being an employer's legal responsibility and moral obligation, ensuring workplace safety also makes good business sense. Everyone at this conference knows this, and my job today is to help you carry this message back to your employers and your organizations.

We begin by recognizing that the loss of any life is one employee too many. That is a "given." But, the tragedy is compounded by the fact that most workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities are preventable. I believe this is the single "big idea" that we need to get across to every employer: PREVENTION.

It is a proven fact that when employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health management system, incidents of injury and illness go down, insurance costs go down, and worker's compensation payments go down. At the same time, employee morale goes up, productivity goes up, competitiveness goes up, and profits go up.

In a time when companies are having to make difficult decisions about profits, losses, and keeping jobs here in America, choosing to improve safety and health programs is not only the responsible decision, but it is also the best management decision.

Workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities cost our nation more than $170 billion per year. These costs affect every person in the United States -- every employee, every employer and every family member.

According to a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, a single workplace accident costs an employee and his or her family on average $8,000 -- out of pocket -- often forcing them to dip into savings or default on payments. As a result, these employees are much more likely to lose their homes, their cars, and their health insurance. Taking steps to keep employees safe reduces this spiral of debt.

There is a comparable impact on employers. Our evidence suggests that companies that implement effective safety and health programs can expect to see their injury and illness rates reduced by 20 percent or more, and a return of $4 to $6 for every $1 invested.

In fact, companies that participate in special cooperative programs with OSHA, such as our Voluntary Protection Programs, find that their average injury and illness rates are 50 percent below the Bureau of Labor Statistics' average for their industry.

OSHA: The Resource

The road to a safer workplace begins with a commitment by management to assess hazards, and develop and institute a comprehensive safety and health plan.

I emphasize this to every employer and organization I meet with: OSHA is here to help employers and employees. They can start today by visiting OSHA's web site: www.osha.gov. Our web pages abound with information and guidance documents to show how to keep everyone healthy and safe.

Simply put: OSHA's advice is free and it can help employers develop a comprehensive safety and health program. If we can convey this simple, direct message to employers, we will help them save lives, save money, and save a lot of unnecessary litigation.

Here is an analogy anyone can relate to: When you see a police officer on a street corner, you are not afraid of him. You might even go up and ask for directions and you'll be grateful for the advice. However, you are also aware that if you run a red light, that same friendly, helpful police officer will be obliged to issue you a ticket that could result in your paying a hefty fine for breaking the law.

This is how I want employers to think of OSHA. I tell them: Do not be afraid to come to us for help and advice. We should all be on the same side of the law, working toward the same goal: Assuring the safety and health of employees.

OSHA's Conference Exhibit

At this conference you can view and pick up samples of OSHA's many publications -- including some our QuickCards, posters, fact sheets, fliers and booklets on general and technical topics -- by visiting the OSHA booth in the exposition hall. At our exhibit booth you can view our on-line Safety and Health pages and ask the OSHA staff how to locate specific information.

Please stop by and say "hello" and pick up something to take back home.

OSHA's Strategic Management Plan

You probably know that OSHA's priorities are guided by a Strategic Management Plan which is designed to work in concert with the Department of Labor's Strategic Plan.

OSHA's Strategic Management Plan has three fundamental goals:
  • Reducing occupational hazards through direct intervention,

  • Promoting a safety and health culture through outreach, education, and compliance assistance, and

  • Maximizing OSHA's effectiveness and efficiency by strengthening the agency's capabilities, diversity and infrastructure.
For the next few minutes, I want to explain how OSHA is approaching each of these goals.

Enforcement

First of all, OSHA practices "direct intervention" through the creation of standards and enforcing those standards.

Enforcement tools such as OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting Program and our Enhanced Enforcement Program effectively and efficiently direct OSHA's resources to those establishments with the highest injury and illness rates.

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.

In April, OSHA sent letters to almost 14,000 high-injury-rate employers. The letters encourage these employers to use OSHA's free consultation service to improve their safety and health programs. Out of this group, OSHA announced two weeks ago that it has set 4,250 high-hazard worksites in its primary list for unannounced comprehensive inspections over the coming year.

If you go to OSHA's web page, you can read the news release, issued on May 31, which details the Site-Specific Targeting Program.

Meanwhile, OSHA's Enhanced Enforcement Program sharpens our targeted approach to enforcement by focusing on employers who, despite OSHA's enforcement and outreach efforts, ignore their obligations and place their employees at risk.

During FY2005, OSHA identified 591 inspections that qualified as Enhanced Enforcement Program cases -- that is nearly 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 Site-Specific Targeting inspection.

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

This targeted enforcement strategy works, and I believe it is strengthened when supported by the complementary strategies of outreach and cooperative programs.

Outreach, Education and Compliance Assistance

We have 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.

With ASSE's input, we are continually updating our web pages, which present more than 200 different Safety and Health Topics Pages.

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

OSHA's Strategic Management Plan also calls for the Agency to provide cooperative and voluntary programs whose focus is on preventing workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

OSHA's premier cooperative program, our Voluntary Protection Programs, represents 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.

Another cooperative effort is OSHA's Strategic Partnership Program. The program works to establish voluntary, cooperative relationships between OSHA and groups of employers or large multi-site companies, along with their employees, employee representatives, and other interested stakeholders. We currently have 165 active partnerships.

Finally, the Alliance Program, our youngest cooperative program, was created in March 2002. Through Alliance agreements, OSHA and participating organizations define, implement, and meet a set of short- and long-term goals that fall into three categories: training and education; outreach and communication; and promoting a national dialogue on workplace safety and health.

Through these agreements, OSHA and its Alliance Program participants expand their reach into local communities. Together, we provide employers with training courses, products, and services for hard-to-reach employees.

At end of March 2006, we had a total of 431 national, regional, and area Alliances. The Alliance Program estimates that through working with the participating organizations, OSHA has been able to reach more than 8 million workers, employees, and association members. Potentially we can reach millions more.

OSHA-ASSE Alliance

At the beginning of my remarks, I mentioned that ASSE and OSHA have enjoyed an enduring and successful Alliance. Our organizations first signed the agreement in December 2002, and we renewed it in June 2004. In fact, the Alliance has accomplished so much and so well that at the end of my remarks this afternoon we are going to renew our Alliance for a second time.

At this conference you are enjoying one of the major outcomes of the Alliance between OSHA and ASSE. Since 2003, OSHA has participated in ASSE's annual safety conference with presentations specially geared to the needs of safety engineers.

This year you can attend a presentation by our Construction Services Director Stew Burkhammer who has a complete update on OSHA construction issues.

Paula White, director of our Cooperative and State Programs, is on the schedule with two presentations on "Designing for Construction Worker Safety" and an overview of "OSHA's Cooperative Programs."

Rich Fairfax , who directs our Enforcement Programs, and Dorothy Dougherty, who directs Standards and Guidance programs for OSHA, have put together an update on their directorates' activities.

Ruth McCully, Dave Ippolito and John Ferris from our Directorate of Science, Technology and Medicine, have a presentation on "OSHA's Emergency Preparedness and Response."

And from this same directorate, Elise Handelman will present news on how we promote "Safety Awareness for Young Workers."

By the way, through our Alliance, OSHA and ASSE are working to address issues affecting young employees in the workplace. For example, in conjunction with our Alliance, ASSE has developed a "Workplace Safety Guide for New Workers."

This year's North American Occupational Safety and Health Week also focused on young employees who are newly entering the nation's workforce. With ASSE's help, on May 1st last month OSHA kicked off NAOSH Week with an event at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. The program included presentations by ASSE President Jack Dobson, me, and Art Nordholm, the Secretary for the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering. The centerpiece of the event featured the winners of ASSE's Kids' Safety Poster Contest.

We are working together in many other ways. Representatives from ASSE participate in our Alliance Program's Construction Roundtable, which includes special workgroups that focus on Fall Protection and Design for Safety. The workgroups have plans to develop compliance assistance and training materials for employers and workers in the construction industry, including safety tip sheets, PowerPoint presentations, special topic web pages and case studies.

The OSHA and ASSE Alliance is also addressing issues that affect non-English-speaking employees. This is an especially vulnerable population, as you know, and we are committed to finding ways to help them and their employers improve their workplace safety and health record.

In addition, OSHA and ASSE have been pooling our expertise to share with employers our technical knowledge and best practices to help reduce musculoskeletal disorders and improve motor vehicle safety.

And I am very pleased to report to you that ASSE's many chapters around the nation are also recognizing the value of working together with OSHA. Each year we are seeing more and more ASSE chapters forming Alliances with OSHA regional and area offices to address the specific, local needs of employers and employees.

Conclusion

I hope that I have helped you begin your afternoon of conference sessions with a note of good news and hope. Together, we are making workplaces safer and more healthful.

I want to assure you as sincerely as I can that under my leadership, OSHA is committed to ensuring that
  • all employers understand their responsibilities for providing a safe and healthy workplace;

  • all working men and women recognize safety and health hazards at their worksites, and

  • all safety and health professionals have the tools to effectively identify and reduce the risks of injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
I know that ASSE shares these goals, and so it is my pleasure to ask [ASSE President] Jack Dobson to join me in signing our Alliance renewal agreement this afternoon.

OSHA is looking forward to continuing its successful Alliance with the American Society of Safety Engineers. Together, we have it in our power to facilitate change and to save lives.

That's the true bottom line.

Thank-you.



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