Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 05/26/1994
• Presented To: American Industrial Hygiene Conference
• Speaker: Dear, Joseph A.
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

"This document was published prior to the publication of OSHA's final rule on Ergonomics Program (29 CFR 1910.900, November 14, 2000), and therefore does not necessarily address or reflect the provisions set forth in the final standard."

                                                             Rev. 6/7

[NOTE: This is a draft text and not necessarily the speech as delivered by the Assistant Secretary.]


Anaheim Convention Center                      8:00 a.m. Thursday 
Anaheim, California                                  May 26, 1994

* Thank you, John, for that kind introduction. John Martonik, Chuck Adkins and the many OSHA industrial hygiene professionals exemplify the commitment and dedication of OSHA's people to worker health and safety. I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet with the members of American Industrial Hygiene Association who, working as dedicated industrial hygienists in both the private and public sectors, do so much to provide better workplace health and safety in America.

* Before I go further, I want to add my congratulations to my predecessor Eula Bingham for receiving the William Steiger Award for notable contributions to the advancement of occupational safety and health. It is a richly deserved high honor for a true pioneer in our field.

* I also want to recognize and thank Harry Ettinger for his contributions, especially his leadership of the PEL project. Yes, we had a setback, but it is not a defeat and we will press ahead with a revised approach, and for his opening of communications with OSHA and the concrete steps he has taken to make teamwork with OSHA a reality. I know that Jerry Lynch is committed to building on Harry's work and I welcome it.

* Working with Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich to transform OSHA is a wonderful challenge and I am having the time of my life doing it. Outside the beltway, the job of Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health is listed in a book of highly sought after jobs that becomes known as the "plum book" after each election. Then I find out that in DC they have another book, one for all the highly technical, super controversial and substantially underfunded programs like OSHA. It's called the "prune book."

* It's been quite a transition from the real Washington to the other Washington. After confirmation last fall, I was preparing for my first media interviews. Now, nothing is simple in Washington DC, so I had advisors helping me prepare the interviews and I was told I had to have a practice session so that the rollout of the new Assistant Secretary would go smoothly and I wouldn't say anything stupid.

* One of the practice questions was: How does work in Washington DC compare with Washington State?

* I proceeded with what I thought was a careful, thoughtful answer to a good question. I said it was a significant challenge to move to Washington DC from a state where labor and management had learned to cooperate on the major issues of safety, health, workers' compensation, where elected officials of both parties could be focussed on problem solving and develop compromises, where resources could be found to implement solutions, and where even the media might actually do a substantive story on the issues. DC is where the reverberations inside the beltway echo chamber make even the simplest tasks difficult, where the environment is totally unforgiving, the time pressure relentless, the consequences of error immense, resistance to change incredible, partisanship unending and benefit of the doubt completely missing.

* My advisors looked horrified. "You can't say that!" "Why?" I asked, "It's true." "That's not the point," they said. "If you say that people will think you're having a hard time and you don't want them to think that because they'll just try to make it harder."

* So you know what my answer to that question became? "It's a lot harder to find a good cup of coffee in DC, but the situation is improving."

The Problem

* If today is like every other day in America, seventeen people won't come home from work because they will be killed in a job related fatality.

* If today is like every other day in America, 17,000 will be hurt, perhaps maimed for life, on the job.

* And countless others will die each year from illnesses that result from being exposed to harmful substances.

* The costs to society from injury and illness in the workplace are substantial. The Rand Institute for Civil Justice has estimated that accidents occurring on work time in 1989 imposed costs of $83 billion, and the National Safety Council estimated that the total cost of work-related accidents was $115 billion in 1992.

* Of course, there is no way to quantify the human costs -- the suffering, anguish, anxiety and lost potential except to note that it is enormous.

OSHA'S Mission

* A great deal of this cost, in human and economic terms, is avoidable because so much of the illness, injury and death occurring in America's workplaces is preventable. To increase the scope and impact of prevention activities by business, labor and government, many things must happen. Among the first thing that must happen is that OSHA must become revitalized and recommitted to its mission of saving lives, preventing serious injuries and protecting the health of America's workers.

There is a tremendous gap between OSHA's mission and the resources available to it. We are responsible for: 6.2 million workplaces, with 92 million workers. We have a budget of only $297 million and 2300 employees to carry out our mission of assuring, as far as possible, that all these workers have a safe and healthful workplace. By comparison EPA has a budget of $6.6 BILLION. Even the Mine Safety and Health Administration has $195 million for 247 times fewer workplaces.

* This gap between mission and resources is the principal driver behind the necessity for OSHA to reinvent itself. OSHA must focus on the most serious threats to worker health and safety and be prepared to redirect its enforcement, standards setting and education and training resources to where they can do the most to protect workers.

* OSHA needs to encourage new and innovative ways for workers and employers to cooperate so they will be able to create the safest and healthiest workplaces possible.

* A strong, energized and more effective OSHA will implement and enforce programs and policies that improve the health and safety of American workers and make American businesses more profitable and competitive.

Reinventing OSHA

* As the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health I am keenly aware of the potential for increasing the reach and range of OSHA's impact on workplace safety and health with existing resources. A concentrated focus on a management agenda to improve OSHA's organizational effectiveness can yield substantial improvements. Indeed these actions -- worker involvement, continuous quality improvement accountability, customer focus -- are the only certain means of acquiring new financial and people resources given the fiscal realities of the federal budget.

* Reinvention is key to OSHA's future. Just like private companies whose competitive situations have compelled them to look hard at all their current processes and operations and reengineer, rightsize or whatever euphemism is used to describe wrenching change, so does OSHA's enormous mission and constrained resources force it to find a better way.

* Every time I meet with health and safety professionals -- inside and outside OSHA -- I hear the plaintive cry for more resources. "If we only had more people and a bigger budget," they say, "we could do more." Of course they're right. But even the modest increase for OSHA proposed by President Clinton in his budget for 1995, and it is modest only in the sense that it is an incremental addition. Compared to other domestic federal programs the fact that it is growing at all is a monumental commitment to improving the program.

* Incremental changes won't make it. Think about it: if all new 61 FTE's proposed in the budget are made frontline compliance officers, at present productivity rates we'd add another 3,000 inspections. Wow. We'd decrease our inspection coverage from once every 80 years to once every 79 and one-half years.

* Reinvention is about finding ways of extending OSHA's reach and range. By reach I mean the number of workplaces touched by OSHA and by range I mean the extent of what happens as a result of OSHA's intervention. Compare the difference between a one-off compliance inspection that has an impact, but over time begins to fade with an intervention that produces management commitment to a health and safety program that involves worker participation. And reinvention is about getting results: making an impact.

* Reinvention is about tapping the knowledge, skill, dedication and commitment of OSHA's workers. It's about focussing on what our customers need. Now when you run a regulatory program and you start talking about customer service, you can get some interesting reactions. Once a compliance officer asked if the employers he inspected were his customers. "Because," he said, "if they are, then some of my customers don't want to be my customers." I described this interaction to one of the Secretary's Kennedy School of Government friends, and he said, "Oh, there's negative demand for your service."

The Road to Safer and Healthier Workplaces

* Reinvention is more of a journey than a destination. So I would now like to describe OSHA's strategy for traveling the road to safer and healthier New American Workplaces:

* Set the rules of the road with finely balanced standards that are protective, feasible, comprehensible and enforceable.

* Block the low road and deter any employers tempted to take it with tough enforcement.

* Encourage the high road -- stay out of the way of employers who go above and beyond OSHA's minimum requirements, celebrate successes in workplace safety and health and assist employers who want to develop high performance workplaces.

Let me discuss each of the components of our strategy.

Blocking the Low Road Through Enforcement

* Enforcement is really the cornerstone of OSHA. Tough enforcement sends an unambiguous message to employers who are on the low road, the road of employers who consciously neglect health and safety and treat their workers as just another factor of production to be disposed of like human debris if they become sick or injured. Enforcement also deters employers who are tempted to take the low road and creates a demand for voluntary compliance.

* Effective targeting is the prerequisite for successful enforcement. We want to concentrate our enforcement resources into recognized problem areas of hazards, industries and employers, bringing results in terms of immediate local action and "ripple effects" in related industries or workplaces.

* We will develop workplace-specific information for inspection targeting. Special attention will be paid to those hazards which have a long history of occupational injury and illness associated with them -- areas such as tuberculosis in health care facilities, lead exposures in construction and work conducted in confined spaces.

* We will initiate a targeting system for industries and individual violators likely to be the more serious violators within the hazard groupings that will receive special attention.

* In cooperation with the Solicitor of Labor, we are developing a comprehensive corporate-wide settlement agreement policy. We will use these agreements where appropriate to spread the effect of enforcement actions beyond the worksite actually inspected to all of the cited employer's facilities. This will ensure that when violators are found, their workers will be assured of the maximum benefit of removal of the cited hazards throughout the company.

* We will continue to use egregious cases and referrals for possible criminal prosecution, involving appropriate publicity and involvement of the Office of the Secretary of Labor.

* The Maine 200 program is an example of innovation, reinvention, in our enforcement role. This program is directed at the 200 employers in Maine with the most workers' compensation lost workday cases. These 200 employ 30% of the workforce but experience 45 % of the state's compensable lost workday cases for job-related injuries and illnesses. We contacted these 200 employers and give them an opportunity to develop and implement a comprehensive action plan to reduce the injuries and illnesses in their workplaces. Employers who decide not to submit an acceptable action plan within a certain time period are placed on a primary list for OSHA inspections. Employers who submit an acceptable action plan are removed from the primary inspection list and placed on a secondary inspection list. The program is designed to reduce the number of workplace injuries and illnesses in Maine while giving employers the maximum opportunity to address the issues and impact of safety and health in their facilities voluntarily. So far it has been a success, with quite a few companies submitting very good safety and health plans. One company even proudly announced to the press that it had been invited to join the Maine 200 program. We will study the results of this pilot program before attempting to expand it to other states.

Setting the Rules of the Road Through Standard Setting

* OSHA must have something to enforce and that means standards, the rules of the road. OSHA has not been in charge of its standards agenda. The standards agenda has been set by Congress and the courts.

* Targeted, more timely and balanced standard setting is one of our principal goals.

* OSHA takes too long on standards. For example, the confined space standard took 17 years. People are injured and become ill because of the length of time required to produce a standard.

* OSHA is creating a system of priorities based on the nature of the hazard; number of workers at risk; and the level of exposure.

* We also are exploring opportunities to streamline the process through such techniques as negotiated rulemaking and by developing generic standards.

* During fiscal years 1994 and 1995 we are planning action on some 40 safety and health standards. This includes 18 proposed and 22 final standards. It is the most ambitious regulatory agenda in OSHA history.

* In development of standards, we are implementing a new process that emphasizes:

-- effective teamwork;

-- early resolution of issues;

-- simultaneous rather than consecutive development of standards packages, including regulatory text, preamble, risk assessment, regulatory impact analysis, and compliance/outreach materials;

-- expedited review within the Department of Labor and by the Office of Management and Budget.

* We used two broad criteria in considering our top OSHA standards priorities:

1. Generic standards which fill significant gaps in hazard protection. We call these OSHA "building blocks."

2. Specific standards covering very high risk or very broad exposure issues.

* Leading the first category of building blocks aimed at filling significant gaps in hazard protection is ergonomics protection. We plan to publish a proposed ergonomics standard by the end of this fiscal year September 30.

Ergonomics Standard

* There is an escalating problem of musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. The problem is the product of a mismatch between the design of the workplace or the worker's tools and his or her ability to respond to the demands of the job. The result is an imbalanced work system.

* Not only does it contribute greatly to the costs of workers' compensation, but this imbalance also results in poor productivity, poor quality and much pain and suffering.

* The solution requires looking at the individual in the context of the organization, the task, the technology and the environment. This must be integrated into the design phases of future work.

* We must put ergonomic principles and design into new jobs and minimize the ergonomic risk factors on existing jobs.

* And workers have to be involved in this process. Workers provide the detailed knowledge achieved only by doing the job. They have eight hours per day to think about how the job could be improved. That feedback rarely makes it back to the process or design engineer. High performance means closing the feedback gap through continuous worker input.

Health and Safety Programs

* Another of our proposed building block standards will involve requirements for written health and safety programs. This would implement concepts contained in OSHA Reform legislation now before Congress. We expect to publish a proposal in the second quarter of FY 1995.

Exposure Assessment Programs

* Also filling a significant gap in hazard protection would be a standard for exposure assessment programs. Exposure assessment programs are necessary to protect employees from adverse effects resulting from overexposure to hazardous chemicals. Such exposure assessments would allow an employer to determine the health risks to their employees, as well as to ascertain the effectiveness of control measures, and the degree of compliance with OSHA regulations. The standard would complement OSHA standards that set permissible exposure limits (PELs) for air contaminants. OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in September 1988 and received 94 comments from industry, labor organizations, public health organizations and AIHA, among others. Basically they expressed a positive attitude toward developing a standard. We want the active input of AIHA and ACGIH and other interested groups as we develop our proposal for exposure assessment programs, expected to be published in late 1995.

Medical Surveillance

* Another building block proposal would be a generic standard on medical surveillance to simplify further development of current or future rules that would need such provisions. We also issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on medical surveillance in September 1988, which resulted in 86 comments, and we also plan to publish a proposal on this in late 1995.

Indoor Air Quality

* We have stepped up to a big health problem and published a proposed rule that would regulate indoor air quality and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) to protect more than 20 million exposed workers. We have taken the action to prevent thousands of heart disease deaths, hundreds of lung disease deaths, and respiratory diseases and other ailments linked to these hazards. Two of the adverse health effects associated with environmental tobacco smoke are lung cancer and heart disease. We estimate that there will be between 144 and 722 cases of lung cancer (almost always fatal) per year among nonsmoking American workers exposed to ETS. OSHA also estimates that there will be between 2,094 and 13,000 deaths from heart disease among American workers exposed to ETS in the workplace. As for indoor air quality, we estimate that the risk of acute respiratory infections is 85 per thousand persons working in conditions that promote poor indoor air quality and the risk of severe non-migraine headaches is 57 per thousand persons. In addition, there are added, and more serious problems of legionella (Legionnaire's disease) and hypersensitivity reactions not yet quantified. The environmental tobacco smoke provisions would apply to more than 6 million enclosed and indoor workplaces under OSHA jurisdiction, while the indoor air provisions apply to more than 4.5 million non-industrial worksites. Hearings are to begin this fall.


* Outbreaks of highly drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis among health care workers have prompted us to include this standard among our top priorities. The rate of new cases of TB has increased 18 percent in the general U.S. population since 1985. Cases of multi-drug resistant TB have occurred in 40 states. In New York City, one study found a third of the TB cases were resistant to at least one drug and 20 percent were resistant to two of the most effective drugs. When organisms are resistant to both drugs, the course of treatment increases from six months to 18 to 24 months and the cure rate drops from 100 % to 60 % or less. Outbreaks of TB, including a multi-drug resistant strain, have occurred at hospitals in Atlanta, Miami, New York City and New Jersey. At least 16 health care workers have developed multi-drug resistant TB. At least five health care workers have died. We plan to publish a proposal in mid-1995. In the meantime, we have issued a memorandum to the field outlining compliance procedures to protect workers against TB.

Fall protection. This includes:

* Final fall protection standard for construction, scheduled for fourth quarter of FY 1994. A third of all worksite deaths in construction are due to falls.

* Two standards on scaffolds in construction (final in first quarter of FY 1995) and in maritime (publish final during fourth quarter of FY 1995).

* Final standard on walking/working surfaces (provides fall protection and scaffolds for general industry), which is scheduled for publication in the third quarter of FY 1995.

* Negotiated rulemaking to work on a standard for steel erection.

Encouraging the High Road

* We want to encourage employers to take the high road, to commit to management of health and safety that goes beyond mere compliance, that embraces the principles of continuous quality improvement, worker empowerment and prevention.

* We can do this through assisting them in developing high-performance workplaces which include excellent safety and health programs. And when they develop such programs, we want to recognize and celebrate their success.

* When management commitment to workplace safety and health through safety and health programs is tied to meaningful worker involvement -- empowerment -- a self perpetuating cycle of improving safety and health, higher morale, increased productivity and lower workers' compensation costs results.

* Compliance assistance though consultation programs, training grants, trade association programs, trade union training programs and loss control services offered by insurance companies are all means available to encourage employers to take the high road. Professional organizations such as AIHA have a major role to play. The recognition of this role by your leadership is one very encouraging development.

* The discussions with representatives of AIHA about the possibility of some of your members providing pro bono assistance to small businesses in the OSHA consultation program is tremendously important. A committee composed of representatives of OSHA, AIHA, the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants Association and the State Consultation Programs will be exploring that possibility in a meeting soon. Such pro bono assistance from AIHA could help us to further leverage our consultation resources in these tight budget times.

* This can be done through OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs, which recognize excellence in worksite safety and health. We want to encourage as many employers as possible to achieve that excellence and join VPP.

* The benefits of VPP are great. Throughout VPP, workers lost workday case rates are 62 percent below the national averages for their industries.

* But to really change on a vast scale, to accomplish a true extension of reach and range -- we've got to do some fresh thinking, some courageous thinking.

* Last fall, Vice President Gore's National Performance Review suggested that in view of its limited resources, OSHA consider the use of third parties for workplace inspection. Some observers were astonished -- to put it mildly -- that a Democratic Administration was embracing a Republican idea. Hadn't records inspections been tried and found to be ludicrously misguided?

* They were appalled at the suggestion that the government relinquish inspection authority believing this to be an incredibly naive view of the intentions and behavior of some employers.

* Other observers were also astonished. Could OSHA actually be thinking about market-driven approaches to workplace safety and health?

* I've spent a lot of time explaining what the NPR recommendation isn't: a replacement of enforcement with voluntary certification. No one has spent much time exploring the possibilities. It's time to do that.

* Let's review the situation. There's the gap between OSHA's mission and resources and the reality of the federal budget deficit. Enforcement is a uniquely governmental function that must be targeted on the worst actors and be recognized as a supremely important means of improving workplace safety and health. We're revitalizing enforcement, but it must be understood that at present resource levels enforcement alone cannot assure safe and healthy workplaces for all workers.

* Compliance assistance must be expanded. Fine, we can do that, but not with money we don't have. We need allies. AIHA has a big role to play along with insurance companies, trade associations, business assistance programs, unions, training programs and others.

* Then there's VPP. Where it exists, it produces great results. But, let's face it, even if we hit our goal of expanding VPP by 60% in one year, we'll have 200 sites out of 6 million. Big deal.

* Given our present method of exhaustively assessing each individual worksite -- high standards and actual results are critically important -- if VPP really took off before long all of OSHA's compliance resources would be tied up evaluating the safest and healthiest worksites in America. That's crazy.

* It's time to open a dialogue between business, labor and government about how third party verification of employer safety and health programs coupled with employee empowerment can leverage incentives for significant improvement in workplace safety and health. It must be understood that this is not a quick fix approach, that it requires careful thought and deliberation and that unless we are prepared to engage in this exercise the best we can expect is continued marginal improvement in worker health and safety.

OSHA Reform

* Advocates of safer and healthier workplaces can take some satisfaction from the successes of the Occupational Safety and Health Act since its passage in 1970. Rates of fatalities from traumatic injury have been cut in half, standards have produced measurable improvements in worker health in specific industries, and enforcement accompanied by monetary fines have produced lower incidence of worker injuries.

* But the overall incidence of injury and illness measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics have not declined significantly, and the costs of these injuries and illnesses continue to skyrocket. And who among us can forget the feeling that comes from knowing a fellow worker who was badly hurt in a preventable injury? We have enough trouble quantifying the economic losses from workplace injury, illness and death; there's no way to quantify the human costs.

* Tougher enforcement, streamlined standards setting, expanded compliance assistance through cooperative programs and reinvention of OSHA's organization and operations can do much to improve the situation.

* That's a lot, for sure, but it's not enough. Congress must enact improvements in the Occupational safety and Health Act. As the economic and human toll of preventable injury and illness continues to rise, the case for OSHA reform becomes clear. The act needs strengthening to:

* give workers a voice through joint safety and health committees. The legislation provides flexibility in how the members are to be selected and committee size. Many major companies already have such committees and their success as well as successes in states requiring such committees show the idea can work. Oregon's committee requirement has helped sharply reduce fatality and injury and illness rates in that state.

* Expand coverage to about seven million state and local government employees who currently receive only spotty safety and health coverage. Yet public workers handle some of the most hazardous tasks, such as cleaning up toxic waste, collecting garbage and fighting fires. The bill addresses this coverage gap for public employees. Because State governments would need time to develop and implement their response to this coverage, we advocate a phase-in period that takes account of their legislative calendars.

* adopt air contaminant standards that are truly protective. The legislation would streamline the important function of setting standards. It also establishes uniform criteria for both health and safety standards. And it would require OSHA to issue the standard on hundreds of chemical exposure limits that was struck down by a court in 1992. That rule would have prevented about 55,000 occupational illnesses and 520,000 lost workdays annually. The legislation also would extend the limits to cover employees in the construction, maritime and agriculture industries, as OSHA had proposed.

* establish meaningful criminal sanctions for those few situations where injury or death is the result of willful violations. If an employee is seriously injured on the job, and an employer's willful health and safety violations are to blame, that employer must be prosecuted. The bill contains provisions, supported by the Justice Department, that increase penalties for willful violations that cause death or serious injury and provide the government with authority to prosecute those company officials who had power to bring a company into compliance.

* address the unique hazards and conditions of the construction industry. The legislation would increase protection for workers in the construction industry, whose rate of injury and illness is about 50 percent greater than in other private industries. And construction has about 15 percent of all fatalities, even though it employs only about 5 percent of all private workers.

* OSHA reform will help turn the focus of workplace safety and health where it needs to be -- on the workplace.

Work that Matters

* I hope that you leave here today realizing that OSHA is moving ahead, with significant changes in enforcement, standards development, and encouragement to employers to follow the high road to workplace safety and health through cooperation, training and consultation.

* As Secretary of Labor Reich has noted, in a highly competitive global economy, we simply cannot tolerate the high costs of workplace injury and illness. In today's economy -- where capital and information cross national borders instantly -- a nation's comparative advantage comes from the only resource that stays more or less fixed within its borders: its workers. That is why the centerpiece of this Administration's economic strategy is investing in our workers -- their skills, their abilities and their capacity to innovate. That's why increasing their security by guaranteeing private health care that can never be taken away is so fundamentally important. Clearly, investing in their health and safety is a part of this strategy, for healthy and safe workers are productive workers. And safe and healthy workplaces are productive and profitable workplaces.

* It is easy as we sit in this nice facility, or as we go about our daily work reviewing data, reading reports, engaging in exciting policy debates about this or that strategy to forget what this work is really about. We must remember that as we sit here that right now there are men and women at work who are needlessly at risk. Some won't come home to their families tonight because they will be killed. Others will be disabled for life.

* Theodore Roosevelt once said that, "Far and away the best prize life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." Protecting the lives and livelihoods of American workers by increasing their health and safety surely is work worth doing. I look forward to doing it with you.

Thank you for listening.
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 - (Archived) Table of Contents

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