Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 11/17/1994
• Presented To: Governor's Industrial Safety and Health 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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. 11/16

Nov. 17, 1994

It's a pleasure to speak to you this morning. I'm sorry that it has to be by satellite, but when Secretary Reich calls, I listen.

This method does have at least two advantages though, by traveling via the information highway instead of through the Spokane International Airport, I don't have to worry about jet lag, or lost luggage.

I would like to thank all my old friends with Washington State Labor and Industries, and especially Mark [Brown] for that terrific introduction.

It's been quite a transition from the real Washington to the other Washington. After Senate confirmation a little more than a year ago, 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."

I get to see the best and worst of workplace safety and health in my job. The worst comes in the office: reports of catastrophes and multiple fatalities, the conclusions of inspections and investigations: egregiously willful violations, recalcitrance at complying with the law, serious injury and death. Sometimes the grim statistics become real. Meeting the parents of a son in his twenties who was killed in a confined space accident. Listening as they try to sort out their grief and anger wondering how it was possible for an employer to operate in a way that killed their son and wondering further why the government wouldn't or couldn't issue a more punishing fine. Feeling let down. What do I tell them? What can we do to see to it that other families don't have to repeat their experience.

I have to get out of my office to see the best. I've been to VPP sites and sites pursuing OSHA's highest recognition for safety and health excellence and heard the immense pride of workers and managers at what they have been able to accomplish when management commitment to workplace safety and health is connected to worker participation -- involvement, empowerment or however you want to describe it when the voice of front-line workers is turned into action.

Seven states and territories with their own occupational safety and health programs are now offering to employers participation in Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), which recognize excellence in worksite safety and health. They are Arizona, California, Iowa, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah.

In those worksites that are in federal OSHA's VPP, workers' lost workday injury case rates are 62 percent below the national averages for their industries; workers' compensation costs and turnover have been reduced dramatically; and productivity has been greatly increased.

Therefore, OSHA wants to encourage as many State plan states as possible, including Washington, to develop VPP programs for their employers. I am pleased that Washington has been working on such a program.

I've been to factories and refineries that are diligently working on improving safety and health conditions. Workplaces that are demonstrating what workers and managers who are committed to improvement are capable of doing. I remember a visit to GM Orion Assembly plant. There GM management and the UAW are tackling problems of musculoskeletal disorders and other problems through a joint committee. After a presentation and a tour, one of the workers pulled me aside and said, "We're not just dumb workers." At first I was disappointed that he thought he needed to tell me that since I really believe it is front-line workers who really know what the problems are and how to fix them. Then I realized that I should be grateful that anyone outside the beltway was willing to give anyone from inside the beltway credit for thinking at all, let alone getting it right.

Across this country workers and managers are tackling tough problems and are showing that cooperation pays big benefits. Safe and healthy workplaces are productive workplaces. When I talked to the National Safety Congress in San Diego recently, the session promised to be some kind of titanic confrontation between business and labor, slugging it out in a re-creation of the battle over OSHA reform in the U.S. Congress. The bill didn't get very far. "What is there to talk about?," someone asked me at the meeting," OSHA reform is dead, isn't it?"

OSHA reform is alive. It's alive because the problem OSHA was created to help still exists.

Whether you reckon the costs of preventable workplace injury, illness and death in human or economic terms, it is staggering. Yes, fatal traumatic injuries have been declining: now only 17 workers are killed each day. Don't ask me how many workers died today as a result of work-related disease because we don't know. Even a conservative estimate places the number eight times higher than the figure for deaths related to traumatic injury.

Injury and illness incidence rates determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are persistently high: 6.8 million in 1992. Workers' compensation costs exceeded $62 billion. The National Safety Council calculated the direct and indirect costs at over $112 billion in 1992.

The economists and statisticians have no way to calculate the human toll: we know it is enormous.

In a world where capital, information and technology can move around the globe virtually in an instant, the only resource that stays relatively fixed within a nation's borders is its workers. Unless we wish to engage in a race to the bottom by competing for low wage, low skill jobs, jobs without the protections of labor standards -- a race we cannot and surely do not want to win -- America must compete on the basis of high wage, high skill jobs, the kind which require a skilled and flexible workforce. That's why the Clinton Administration's program makes investing in the nation's workforce a centerpiece of its economic strategy. Individual firms and the nation as a whole will succeed in investing in the knowledge and skills of its workers. It's the best way to attain a sustainable competitive advantage. And investing in the health and safety of America's workers is part of that strategy.

Secretary Reich has called for a new OSHA for a new economy. A revitalized OSHA. One with the tools and smarts for the challenges of creating safer, healthier and more human workplaces. This is not just a legislative question.

The question must concern ourselves with today is not what Congress is going to do or not do to the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It is what we are going to do about the challenges of improving workplace safety and health.

The Administration supported the bills sponsored by Senator Kennedy and Representative Ford. I talked to a lot of members about how the Secretary and I were doing everything we could with the resources and authority we presently have to increase OSHA's impact on safety and health, but that certain changes could only be made by Congress.

I heard two things over and over. Everyone is for improved safety and health. And everyone is critical of OSHA. We do too much enforcement. We do too little enforcement. Our standards are too specific. Our standards are too vague. The Act needs to be stronger. The Act needs to be weaker. This is not news, for sure. It's the continuing story of how business and labor approach the issue when it's framed in legislative terms. The camps inside the beltway are staked, the positions are firm and not much is going to happen. Just more gridlock.

But I learned a funny thing. You can take the same set of leaders from labor and business, get them together in a room away from the Capitol to talk about the problems of workplace safety and health, the limitations on OSHA's resources and the common interest employers and workers have in providing safe and healthy workplaces and find a remarkable amount of agreement.

There is support for strong, target, focussed inspections. Block the low road. Find the bad guys and put the hurt on them.

There is support for programs which assist employers and employees in complying with OSHA standards and in recognizing and preventing hazards: help those who want help.

There is support for programs which leverage OSHA's resources through partnerships.

More than reform is required. OSHA needs to be revitalized. Its mission endures. It is to save lives, prevent injuries and illnesses and protect the health and safety of American workers. We are focussing our efforts on the most serious threats to worker health and safety -- and are redirecting our resources -- enforcement, standards setting, and education, training and recognition -- to where they can do the most to protect workers.

We are developing new and innovative ways to encourage workplace cooperation and educate worker and employers so they will be able to create the safest and healthiest workplaces possible. An energized, strong and effective OSHA will implement and enforce programs and policies that improve the safety and health of workers and make American business more profitable and competitive.

OSHA is changing the way it does business. Given the gap between our mission which encompasses over 93 million workers employed at over 6 million workplaces and our resources of $312 million and 2300 people -- we have to reinvent ourselves.

We created a strategic plan for FY 94. We set priorities and stuck to them. We increased inspections, penalties, egregious cases. A couple of our most notable egregious cases--cases where we propose large penalties for multiple instances of violation of a standard because of the flagrant nature of the violations--are:

Dayton Tire, a division of Bridgestone-Firestone, Inc., in Oklahoma City, where Secretary Reich personally delivered citations and proposed penalties of $7,490,000 for alleged willful egregious violations of the lockout/tagout standard. A worker died from head injuries he received when a tire assembly machine he was servicing began operating. It was the largest penalty ever assessed by OSHA in a case involving lockout/tagout violations. Secretary Reich personally delivered the citations because he found the case "particularly outrageous."

E. Smalis Painting Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., where Secretary Reich proposed a penalty of $5 million, largest single-employer construction penalty to date, for allegedly subjecting employees to lead exposures many times greater than the level permitted by the lead in construction standard.

We worked to eliminate the backlog in worker discrimination cases, reducing it to its lowest level since 1986. We continued the Maine 200 program, which uses state workers' compensation data to target employers and an incentive for those employers to develop and implement safety and health programs with worker involvement. We started a variation of it in Wisconsin.

We proposed four standards, including indoor air quality and environmental tobacco smoke. We adopted 10 final standards including the asbestos remand and fall protection in construction. We established a policy to determine our priorities for standards setting.

We added 80 new VPP sites, expanding our safety and health management excellence program by over 75 %. We created three new education centers to expand the availability of the OSHA Training Institute curriculum.

We're just getting started on the revitalization of OSHA. Here's what we are going to focus on in the coming year.

We are implementing the focused inspection in construction program. In construction enforcement, we will focus more of our resources on checking for hazards that cause 90% of construction deaths. They are: falls from elevations (33% of all construction fatalities); being struck by machines or materials (22%); being caught in (trenching collapses) or between (a vehicle and another surface) (18%); and electrical shock (17%) Most construction citations have been for violations that are unrelated to those major killer causes.

OSHA's time can be more effectively spent investigating the most dangerous workplace conditions in construction. What we will do is determine who is the controlling contractor on the worksite and whether that contractor has an effective safety and health program and a person on the site responsible for implementing that program. If the answer is "yes," then we will perform an inspection focusing on the four killer hazards. We would still cite for any other serious violations in plain view during the inspection. If the controlling contractor does not have both an effective safety and health program and a person responsible for implementing the program, then we will perform our usual comprehensive inspection.

This new policy became effective October 1. We are about to begin the work of developing similar focused inspection programs for general industry.

We will extend the reach and magnify the impact of these focused enforcement activities, by offering incentives, such as recognition programs or reduced penalties, for workplaces with strong demonstrations of worker participation and management commitment to comprehensive hazard recognition and control. We will expand employee participation in consultation programs and in our enforcement-litigation strategy.

We will establish and strengthen partnerships with trade associations, labor unions and other government agencies to assist in providing training, education and research.

We received $3.2 million in our current budget to begin implementation of an improved inspection targeting system, utilizing worksite data.

We will initiate a more systematic process of identifying priorities for regulatory activity and other protective interventions using our newly developed standards planning process.

We will concentrate our regulatory activities on a package of "building block" standards which will establish a clearer set of expectations for hazard recognition and control. These will, in turn, guide enforcement and assistance programs. These standards include ergonomics protection, safety and health programs, exposure assessment, medical surveillance and recordkeeping.

Ergonomics comes from the Greek "ergo" meaning work and "nomos" laws, ergonomics simply means the "laws of work." The field of ergonomics includes the design of work systems and management of workers that enhance health, safety and performance rather than hinder them. The work system includes balancing the technology, organization, environment and tasks with the capabilities and limitation of the worker. When the work system is out of balance, the result is not only lost opportunities in production and quality for employers but also preventable pain, suffering, impairment and disability for employees.

The results of these unbalanced designs have made headlines in the U.S. over the last few years with a rapid increase in both the incidence and reporting of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. These include disorders of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and their supporting nerves and vessels. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, hand-arm vibration syndrome (or vibration white finger), tendinitis (or electrician's elbow), sciatica, herniated lumbar discs, bursitis (carpet layer's knee). In fact, these disorders were first reported in construction workers who built the Egyptian pyramids who suffered from severe back pain! Hand-arm vibration syndrome was described in the medical literature by Harvard's Professor Alice Hamilton in 1918 among workers using hand-held pneumatic rock drills.

These disorders are real, they are growing, and they are serious. Overall, reported incidence of largely upper extremity disorders associated with repeated motion rose from 5 per 10,000 in 1982 to 30 per 10,000 in 1992. In some industries, such as meatpacking, the rate rose to over 1,300 per 10,000. As alarming as these rates are, they do not include back injuries. In 1992, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 398,000 overexertion injuries related to lifting. In an article by Webster and Snook of Liberty Mutual, the estimated direct workers compensation costs for low back pain was $11.4 billion in 1990. BLS reported that the median lost work time for carpal tunnel syndrome was more than 30 days and was greater than for any other illness or injury, including fractures and amputations.

Construction has not been exempted from work-related musculoskeletal disorders. For example, based on Washington State Fund Workers Compensation data, and not counting injuries due to acute trauma:

The rate of new cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders in construction has been double that for non-construction, and for the average case, double the cost.

The differences hold for specific kinds of work-related musculoskeletal disorders such as low back disorders where the rate is more than double that of non construction

Carpal tunnel syndrome claim costs are twice that of non-construction.

The good news is that there are also real solutions. There are a growing number of companies across this country who have implemented ergonomic programs and processes to reduce the frequency and severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders as well as having secondary benefits of improved performance and reduced turnover. Whenever I visit worksites or listen to employers who have implemented successful ergonomic processes, I have gotten the same message:

employee awareness and involvement throughout the process early reporting of cases and appropriate follow-up identification and assessment of risk factors implementing controls follow-up to make sure the control measures are working

Ergonomic design is an important part of the solution In order to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders as well as improve performance, basic ergonomic design issues for any worksite must include fitting the work to the worker in terms of: energy, forces and postures required to do the work environmental conditions where the work is performed scheduling of work social interactions at work information needed to do the work human-machine interface

Standards play an important part. The Ergonomic Protection standard is a logical extension of these existing solutions. It can level the playing field so at least minimum performance criteria are uniformly in place. We intend for the standard to lay out the performance parameters for compliance but to provide flexibility to industries to implement solutions that work best for them in reducing exposure to risk factors. We invite your comments about how to do that better.

We will also explore opportunities for cooperative programs with major workers' compensation insurers to link loss control activities with worksite based "find and fix" programs.

We will also continue working on the continuous improvement of our own processes. The same structured problem-solving techniques used in total quality management and process reengineering are being successfully applied in OSHA itself. We will be implementing throughout OSHA improvements in FOIA processing, debt collection, complaint handling and discrimination case handling.

We have a team of front-line compliance officers, middle managers, senior and support staff doing a complete redesign of our field offices. Assisted by McKinsey & Company, this effort will result in the functional integration of targeting, training, personnel, outreach, information technology, process improvement and empowerment activities.

We will continue to develop and implement a performance measurement system, integrated with our fiscal year 1995 goals and objectives. It is extremely important for OSHA to move from measuring activities such as the number of inspections or the percentage of serious violations to measuring impact in terms of lives saved and injuries and illnesses prevented.

Whether you call it reform, reinvention or revitalization, what I have just described can be done now.

As we do all this, I believe we can convince the Congress to adopt positive improvements to the Act. If we don't do these things, I don't think it will matter very much what the Congress does because it won't be possible to implement the changes where it counts: at the workplace.

I have learned this in my first year as Assistant Secretary: there is a common ground between business, labor and government when it comes to improving workplace safety and health. Partnerships are possible and powerful. Sure, some days that common ground can feel like no man's land. But whether your main concern is economic cost or human cost, there are solutions which simultaneously or concurrently address both. We must find them, celebrate them and press for their adoption. This course will really reform OSHA. It is a worthy challenge and I welcome the opportunity to work on it with 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 - (Archived) Table of Contents

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