Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 09/26/1995
• Presented To: Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

SEPTEMBER 26, 1995

Good afternoon and welcome to the nation's capitol. It is wonderful to see this tremendous gathering of workers and managers -- leaders -- in occupational health and safety.

One of the aspects I most enjoy about my job is getting out of this town and visiting workplaces where real work gets done and meeting with workers and managers, and OSHA's own field staff, to learn about present conditions and problems and how things are improving by tackling those problems. Unfortunately, a practical focus is not what is typical about safety and health issues as they are considered here. You all have a great opportunity to spread a dose of realism and enthusiasm around this town.

I get to see the best and worst of workplace health and safety in my job. Usually the worst is reported to me in my office. Mostly, I have to leave the office to hear about the best, except perhaps when your terrific executive director Lee Anne Elliott visits the office to report on your activities. When I am in the field, I see some extraordinary things. Just yesterday I helped the Allied Signal Nevada, Missouri plant celebrate its third recertification as a Star site. It really is a different experience for someone from OSHA to be greeted at a plant's entrance with a smile, saying "Hello. Please park out front and go inside, the safety committee is waiting to greet you."

OSHA is known for enforcing safety and health standards: we catch employers doing it wrong. Enforcement is extremely important when employers make no effort to meet their legal obligations to provide safe and healthy workplaces and violate our society's conception of what is decent and right. But raising VPP star flags as I have done in the past year at AT&T in Orlando, Florida; Rolm and Haas in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and American Ref-fuel in Westbury, New York, has shown me again that catching employers doing it right is also important. The power of positive examples--models of excellence--which is what your sites are--provide compelling proof of what is possible. That's leadership and it is inspiring.

I do hope that while you're in Washington DC, there'll be an opportunity for you to visit some of the city's inspiring monuments and museums.

There are so many monuments here, like the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials that honor three great Presidents, as well as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the newly dedicated Korean War Memorial which honor the men and women who died in foreign wars. These memorials and others around this beautiful city celebrate and recognize the magnificent accomplishments and sacrifices in our Nation's history.

But there is no memorial to the more than 56,000 American workers who lose their lives every year as a result of workplace accidents and illnesses: 6,500 of those deaths are due to injury, the remaining 50,000, a conservative estimate, succumb to diseases contracted at work.

The human and economic cost of preventable workplace injury and illness is staggering. Accidents alone cost the economy over $112 billion a year. Of course, the human cost is incalculable, but huge. But when we hear about workplace safety and health it is usually in the vein of some exaggerated story intended to belittle and diminish governmental efforts to prevent injuries and illness.

Ah, the OSHA stories. I'm not going to repeat any, except for the most important one, and the one you are least likely to hear. It is this: OSHA saves lives. Since its creation almost 25 years ago, the rate of fatal occupational injuries has been cut in half. OSHA's protective standards literally make the difference between life and death for millions of working men and women.

Whether it's the cotton dust standard, which has virtually eliminated brown lung disease in the textile industry; the lead standard, which reduced by two-thirds blood poisoning in workers in smelting plants and battery plants; the grain dust standard which in five years reduced fatalities in grain elevators by 58 percent and reduced injuries by over 40 percent; or even something as seemingly mundane as a trenching standard, which since 1990 has helped reduce fatalities from trench cave-ins by 35 percent.

OSHA enforcement works. A study of manufacturing inspections done by OSHA found that in the three years following an OSHA inspection that imposed economic penalties, the injury rates were reduced by 22 percent.

In areas where OSHA has concentrated its enforcement attention, a study found that between 1975 and 1993 injury and illness rates in manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas extraction, the injury and illness rates declined. In other industries that received less enforcement attention -- wholesale, retail, health care, financial services -- the injury and illness rates went up.

I am proud of this record. It truly is a story that needs to be told. But, no one should be satisfied with the status quo. We can and must do better. We need to reinvent OSHA. We need to reinvent OSHA because of the huge and growing gap between its mission and resources -- 93 million workers employed at over 6 million workplaces to be covered by OSHA with a budget of just over $312 million and less than 2,100 inspectors -- and because the public wants, demands, that government programs dramatically improve their performance.

Consider a poll recently done for the Council for Excellence in Government. It asked a thousand adult Americans their opinions of government at all levels, federal, state and local, and across a variety of activities--including regulatory programs.

When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement "Government has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the free market system," a not too surprising 73% strongly or somewhat agreed. That explains why regulatory reform efforts in Congress seem to have so much support.

The poll also asked if respondents agreed or disagreed with this statement, "Workplaces are much safer as a result of government regulation than they would be if business was left to its own devices."

Seventy-two percent of the people surveyed agreed with that statement.

The public is clearly not satisfied with the performance of regulatory programs. They want more value for the tax money they put in. But they also want the protections that workplace safety and health, or environmental, or food safety, or other government protective programs provide. They're not willing to trust their fate willy-nilly to the values of private economic market forces.

We are answering the public's call for reform, not rollback.

Vice President Gore and President Clinton joined workers and management at Stromberg Sheet Metal Works in Washington DC, yes there really is a real manufacturer in Washington D.C., to announce the three strategies that make up the New OSHA:

    *  Give America's employers a choice -- partnership or traditional 
    *  Use common sense in developing and enforcing regulations 
    *  Focus on results, not red tape
Let me describe what these initiatives mean for OSHA's reinvention. Partnership or traditional enforcement means just what it says. Employers who develop effective health and safety programs as demonstrated through management commitment, employee involvement, finding and fixing serious hazards and showing results by lowering injury and illness rates will have a partner in OSHA. You understand this. For the VPP sites are the model for the best in partnerships for excellence in workplace safety and health. Let's look at what this partnership is accomplishing.

I'm proud that the number of sites participating in Federal and State VPP programs is growing -- there are now 221. Together these sites provide quality safety and health protection to approximately 167,000 workers. The mentoring program provides a positive safety and health approach for another 71,250 workers. Other outreach activities such as speeches by VPP participants at conferences and trade associations and assistance at OSHA training events have affected 100,000 workers.

So together, VPP and VPPPA nationwide contribute improved safety and health to 337,000 workers -- at a cost of about six-tenths of one percent of the overall OSHA budget. According to Lee Anne, that number doubles when you add in things like outreach to contractors providing service to VPP sites among others.

This outreach includes the VPPPA mentoring and the outreach program -- established in the Spring of 1994 -- designed to use the skills and knowledge of employees on OSHA or DOE VPP sites to help protect workers at other sites by either establishing safety and health program or improving existing ones.

VPPPA has also greatly assisted OSHA in developing the OSHA Volunteers program. Our resources for conducting onsight reviews are extremely limited -- some applications for VPP would have to wait 18 months for an onsite visit! So the volunteers program has supplemented our limited personnel resources with highly qualified, conscientious professionals experienced in safety and health program management.

These volunteers are actually sworn in as a Special Government Employees -- we call them SGEs. And SGEs are A-O-K.

SGEs are another success story. Those regions that have utilized these volunteers have been thoroughly impressed with their knowledge, effectiveness and professionalism. The worksites they have visited report the same thing.

There are 24 Special Government Employees in this program. I'd like to recognize the 8 who have been sworn in. They are:

    *  Jeff Johnston, Texas Eastman
    *  Donald Jones, Dow Chemical
    *  Lynn Longino, Dow Chemical
    *  Fred Salter, Vanity Fair Mills
    *  Bob Tebbs, Monsanto Chemical 
    *  Paul Villane, Monsanto Chemical
    *  Paris Watson, Ciba-Geigy 
    *  Mike Fagel, Aurora packing

    Congratulations and thank you.
OSHA appreciates your work and looks forward to having many more Special Government Employee volunteers participating in VPP onsite visits during the new fiscal year.

I'd also like to thank those DOE employees and contractor safety and health professionals who have assisted in VPP teams.

VPPPA members also have helped OSHA train field employees for the start of the "New OSHA" programs. Their input to the training provided a "real world" perspective for those sessions. Some volunteers are helping with training this week.

VPPPA also assisted OSHA in the first pilot projects of a pro bono program to provide safety and health assistance to small businesses. The course for this program was developed by a task force with representatives from VPPPA, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, American Society of Safety Engineers, American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, and the OSHA consultation projects.

These examples of partnership are extremely important in helping to build the New OSHA. In addition to forging partnerships, the New OSHA means applying common sense at work. It means involving employers, unions, safety and health professionals early as we develop new protective standards. We are using common sense in developing regulations. We are trying to negotiate, not dictate safety and health standards. For example, we are currently negotiating the steel erection standard in construction. The hearings on the proposal for a new respiratory protection standard featured a novel interactive panel discussion requested by respirator manufacturers. The panel gave OSHA much `food for thought' toward achieving an improved final product.

We are using partnerships with business and labor to address other challenging workplace health and safety issues like hazard communication and record keeping.

We are also engaged in a page-by-page review of all of our regulations and are taking steps to eliminate more than a thousand pages of regulation.

We have developed a priority list for new standards and other interventions and are following it.

We are in the process of developing a proposed standard for safety and health programs. I would personally welcome and value any suggestions that you can provide us based on your experience.

The third element of our reinvention strategy is focusing on results -- not red tape. This involves significantly changing OSHA's culture.

In the past, we've looked at activities -- how many inspections did we do? How many violations did we find per inspection? How many penalty dollars did we collect? It has never been OSHA's practice to look at ultimate measures of what we're here to do -- reduce injury, illness, and death -- until now.

At the heart of this change in OSHA's culture is a new way of working on OSHA's front line.

In the past, OSHA responded to complaints by writing letters to the company, and asking for written responses. We've changed that and now, we simply pick up the phone and call the company, tell the safety and health representative that we've received a complaint, and ask for their response.

In our Atlanta office recently, we received a complaint from an employee at Delta Airlines. Our GS-12 compliance officer called the corporate headquarters, and got a vice-president on the phone. He told him he was an OSHA inspector, that we had received a complaint, and the nature of the complaint, and asked "What's your side of the story?" The Delta vice-president started making frantic phone calls, and pulled together immediately a meeting of key personnel. Once they were all gathered, they spent an hour discussing the phone call--and whether or not it was a hoax! But then they went to the employee who had complained, found out about the problem and fixed it that afternoon!

In OSHA, we're convinced that reinvention can transform the way that occupational safety and health is accomplished throughout America.

It is a far preferable alternative to those so-called reform proposals in Congress for slashing OSHA's already slim budget and gutting protective regulating. If enacted into law, these proposals would seriously damage OSHA's ability to set and enforce protective standards, thereby reducing the agency's ability to prevent worker fatalities, injuries and illnesses by identifying hazards before workers are injured.

I'd like to take this moment to publicly thank the association for its courage in taking a constructive and public position on the OSHA reform legislation proposed by Congressman Cass Ballenger.

The bill is the wrong way to improve safety and health. If enacted it would result in safety and health becoming an optional, advisory service of government. Will common sense enforcement and regulation improve OSHA? Yes. Will gutting OSHA's ability to enforce standards improve worker health and safety? Absolutely not!

The Occupational Safety and Health Act makes a simple, fundamental and dignified promise to United States workers. It says the purpose of OSHA is to "assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions," and requires that every employer "shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause serious injury or death."

The Ballenger bill would make enforcement of this general duty clause impossible. Does that sound like OSHA reform?

The OSH Act also states that the Secretary of Labor is charged with setting standards dealing with toxic materials or harmful physical agents which "most adequately assure, to the extent feasible, on the basis of the best available evidence, that no employee will suffer material impairment of health, or functional capacity even if such employee has regular exposure to the hazard dealt with by such standard for the period of his working life." The Ballenger bill would repeal that language. Does that sound like OSHA reform?

This bill repeals the right to a healthy and safe workplace. You could have it -- if your employer decided to provide it. The bill includes rollbacks, reversals and repeals that will unwind 25 years of progress including:

    *  no citations unless there is a death or serious 
       injury.  This turns prevention on its head!
    *  no willful penalties 
    *  no egregious penalty multiplier.  Serious 
       consequences for serious violators?  This bill 
       protects unsafe employers.

employees wishing to file a complaint against their employer must first notify them of their intention to call OSHA -- regardless of the threat of imminent danger or retribution.


And, as if we needed one more Congressional obstacle, there's the budget.

The House approved a FY 1996 budget for OSHA that would cut enforcement funding by a third. It would shrink the present force of only 1,100 inspectors for more than 6 million workplaces by up to a half. Yet, OSHA inspections have caused significant declines in injuries and illnesses. The disruption and loss of resources resulting from a 33% reduction in OSHA enforcement would result in an estimated 50,000 additional injuries and illnesses, that could otherwise have been prevented.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has been kinder. The full Senate will debate OSHA's budget this week.

As I travel around the country, I talk to many people. They tell me the proposals in Washington are awful -- they can't believe they can happen.

Ladies and gentlemen -- believe me, they can happen. They are happening -- and they will happen -- unless American workers and employers say they want less posturing and more sensible solutions.

Each and everyone of you in this room represent the pride that comes from a successful partnership between OSHA and employers and workers. Carry that pride with you during your visit here.

Real OSHA reform does not require legislation. It requires common sense, dedication and partnership. The kind of partnership the VPP so beautifully symbolizes.

Our ultimate goal is not to have another monument built in the Nation's capitol. When business, labor, and government work together to keep American workers safe, we are building a more important monument, workplace by workplace all across our country.

Our goal is to instill management commitment to health and safety in the workplace, to engage the energy, talent and imagination of workers in that pursuit and arrive at that moment when it can be said that every working man and woman in the Nation went to work today and came home to their families in the same condition that they left.

This is work worth doing. I am honored to share it with you and I salute your commitment to excellence.

Thank you.
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

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

Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents

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