Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 01/17/1995
• Presented To: American Society of Safety Engineers
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

JAN. 17, 1995

It's a pleasure to speak to you this morning. I'm sorry that it has to be by satellite, but I seem to be in considerable demand in Washington these days.

This method does have its advantages, though. By traveling via the information highway instead of through Chicago O'Hare or the Detroit airport to make a connecting flight to Grand Rapids, I don't have to worry about wintry weather, or lost luggage.

I would like to thank my friend Doug Earle of the Michigan OSHA program for that terrific introduction. Doug and I shared many experiences when I was directing the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and serving as a member of the Occupational Safety and Health State Programs Association (OSHSPA). Doug was an extremely able chairman of OSHPA's board, and remains one of the foremost advocates of state plans in the nation.

The Michigan program has been a very progressive one, with its extensive safety and education training program (SET). SET provides both employers and employees with training in accident prevention. Michigan also provides on-site consultation in better occupational safety and health for public as well as private employers. Those are just a couple of examples.

Michigan, like Federal OSHA, is continually seeking ways to improve how it conducts business. We welcome the opportunity to continue our close cooperation with the Michigan program in the future.

We are experiencing a sea change here in Washington. Read any story about the new leadership in Congress and read about moratoriums on regulation, regulatory reform and oversight hearings. Regulatory agencies are under intense scrutiny--their missions, their budgets, their standards--and OSHA is no exception.

Reality does have policy implications. Our challenge is to convince our many audiences--including Congress--that OSHA serves a vital purpose.

Our mission here at OSHA remains the same as it was nearly twenty-five years ago--to save lives, to prevent injuries and illnesses and to protect the health and safety of America's workers. But, that doesn't mean that we have to do business the way we did twenty-five years ago. We are changing the way we do business, and I believe we are on the right track.

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 good. A recent customer service survey reported that the vast majority of employers find OSHA inspectors professional and knowledgeable. We are choosing quality over quantity, and our efforts are paying off. Always, our ultimate goal is to eliminate safety and health hazards, not to create unnecessary paperwork. This does not mean that we should be less aggressive in our enforcement activities. It does mean that we must be smart, and think strategically before we act.

The need for our work in occupational safety and health has not changed. Injury and illness rates in the workplace have declined, but they are still high -- 8.5 cases reported for every 100 workers or a total of 6.7 million in 1993. Yes, fatal traumatic injuries also 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.

The total benefits paid out under workers' compensation in the U.S. have soared from $17.6 billion in 1983 to $50.2 billion in 1993. This data reflects payments to employees, not costs to employers. Some estimates are that costs to employers are about 30% greater.

The National Safety Council says that the true cost to the nation, to employers and to individuals of work-related deaths and injuries is much greater than the cost of workers' compensation insurance alone. The council estimated that the total cost in 1993 amounted to $112 billion and that each worker must produce an additional $940 in goods or services to offset the cost of work injuries.

No matter how you calculate it, reducing these costs through prevention of injuries, illnesses and deaths is a major problem for American employers. It also has a major impact on the ability of American businesses to remain competitive in world markets.

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 protection of labor standards, 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 Middle Class Bill of Rights. Individual firms and the nation as a whole will succeed by 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.

As I've traveled around the country, I've 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 is framed in legislative terms. The camps inside the beltway are firm, the positions are staked out.

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, targeted, focused inspections: Block the low road. Target the worst hazards and the worst actors.

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. We can establish and strengthen partnerships with trade associations and professional organizations such as ASSE, labor unions, workers' compensation insurers and other government agencies to assist in providing training, education and research.

We are developing new and innovative ways to encourage workplace cooperation and educate workers and employers so they will be able to create the safest and healthiest workplaces possible. An energized, strong and effective OSHA is implementing and enforcing 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, $312 million and 2300 people -- we have to reinvent ourselves.

Command and control government regulation is following the path of command and control structure in the private economy. It's vanishing. Consider perhaps the most important initiative of the new OSHA: our attempt to bring the principles of labor-management teamwork and employee involvement to the field of health and safety. We're encouraging employers to take the high road by developing their own tailored health and safety programs that eliminate workplace hazards and prevent illness and injury. OSHA's Maine 200 program illustrates this approach.

The Maine 200 program uses state workers' compensation data to target employers with bad safety records and offers those employers an incentive if they develop and implement safety and health programs with worker involvement. The incentive is that they will be placed way down the inspection priority list. Not surprisingly, the response has been very favorable. In fact, one company actually issued a press release announcing that they had been accepted into OSHA's Maine 200 program. These 200 employers operate at over 1,350 locations and employ over 30% of Maine's workforce.

Our data shows that Maine employers identified 95,000 serious hazards and abated 55,000 of them already in under two years. In the prior 8 years of OSHA enforcement, we found 35,000 serious hazards in compliance inspections. That's leverage.

Another example of focusing on the most serious threats to worker health and safety while at the same time encouraging employers to develop and implement safety and health management programs is the focused inspection in construction program. Focused inspection in construction is a way to spend OSHA's time more effectively and to get contractors to pay attention to serious safety hazards.

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 major killers of construction workers: falls, electrocutions, being caught in (trenches) and being struck by machines or materials. Our own data show that today the most frequently cited serious hazard in construction is hazard communication. THAT MUST CHANGE! The four hazards I just cited account for 90 percent of the fatalities in construction.

I am pleased that Michigan is looking into the possibility of developing a similar focused inspection program in construction.

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. In 1994 we added over 80 new sites in our Voluntary Protection Programs, expanding our safety and health excellence recognition program by over 75%.

In these days when the need for any further government intervention in the workplace is being questioned, we have adopted a new standards planning system which enables us to better identify what should be our priorities should be and what other methods of addressing hazards could be used instead. With the advice of more than 200 stakeholders from business, labor, state and local governments and professional organizations, we are creating a system of priorities based on the nature of the hazard, the number of workers at risk, and the level of exposure, using the best available scientific and economic information.

We are actively seeking to use partnerships to promote training and educations, voluntary compliance programs, cooperative research, and other outreach activities wherever possible.

It's very easy to become distracted from the important work of dramatically changing the way we do business when we are spending so much time lately responding to outlandish stories and ridiculous allegations. The anti-regulation climate has stirred up a lot of stories--OSHA is trying to regulate the tooth fairy; OSHA doesn't allow roofers to chew gum on a roof; OSHA makes bakery workers wear respirators while working with vanilla. None of these are true, yet they have all received widespread attention, and have been given some credibility.

But there are other OSHA stories about outrageous abuses of worker health and safety--abuses that cause death or permanent disability. About management seeing the light, committing to managing health and safety in their workplaces, involving workers in that effort and producing real results--lower costs, higher quality, improved morale and increased productivity. You know stories like this. You must share them. OSHA and the great cause of protecting worker health and safety need your help more than ever.

We don't object to having a debate on how we can make the American workplace a safer and more healthy place. But let's have that debate based on the facts--not on misrepresentations and blatant falsehoods.

We can work together to convince all of our audiences--Congress, business, labor and of course workers--that our only goal is to protect worker health and safety, at MIOSHA and at your OSHA.

Thank you. I will now take questions.
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

Thank You for Visiting Our Website

You are exiting the Department of Labor's Web server.

The Department of Labor does not endorse, takes no responsibility for, and exercises no control over the linked organization or its views, or contents, nor does it vouch for the accuracy or accessibility of the information contained on the destination server. The Department of Labor also cannot authorize the use of copyrighted materials contained in linked Web sites. Users must request such authorization from the sponsor of the linked Web site. Thank you for visiting our site. Please click the button below to continue.