Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 05/22/1996
• Presented To: The American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

MAY 22, 1996

Thank you.

A year ago, when we last met, a new Congress was huffing and puffing, and hoping to blow OSHA down. I appealed for your support, knowing that turbulent times lay ahead. But, little did I imagine how turbulent the last half of 1995 and early 1996 would be. I often wondered, as we were gearing up for OSHA's 25th anniversary, if there would be a 26th. Two government shutdowns, 13 stop-gap continuing budget resolutions, assorted legislative salvos, and months of employee anxiety later, I'm happy to report that the Twister finally has moved on to the movie theaters. And our budget came out last month better than many thought. I sincerely thank you for your efforts on OSHA's behalf.

I'd also like to welcome you to Washington. During your time here, you'll undoubtedly see our many monuments and memorials. As you walk along the Mall, however, you won't see any monument to the hundreds of millions of Americans who have worked to make ours the most prosperous society in history. Nor will you see any memorial to Americans who have died due to workplace injuries and illnesses -- an annual number nearly equal the toll for the entire Vietnam War.

During my three years in Washington, I've learned many important things. At first, one of the worst and most frustrating things I discovered was how hard it is to get anything done. Now, after last year, with the Congressional attempts to slash our budget and reform us into oblivion, I realized one of the best things about Washington is how hard it is to get anything done.

Despite the often glacial pace here, the Clinton Administration is working hard to build a new OSHA that improves the well-being of all American workers, boosts the fortunes of business, and makes OSHA less bureaucratic and more results-oriented.

OSHA has had huge successes. In its first quarter century, the death rate for American workers has been cut in half, and we've made remarkable progress on many old hazards. But, when more than 50,000 Americans die and nearly 7 million are injured or made ill each year because of their work, and with new hazards emerging, huge challenges remain.

At a time when funding is tight, and private and public-sector organizations are re-engineering, rightsizing, downsizing or wrongsizing, we share the challenges of reconciling our mission and goals with our resources. As you know, when companies are cutting or outsourcing their health and safety programs, and when OSHA has less money to protect an ever-growing number of workers -- nearly 100 million in the private sector -- we must come up with better ways of doing our jobs.

Last December's White Paper Outlook reported that fewer employee health and safety programs are increasing their budgets or staff, and that a growing number of industrial hygiene professionals worry about their own job security and fear that Washington's anti-regulatory winds would blow away their EHS budgets.

I know how you feel. We're rowing in the same boat. When OSHA appeared to be on the ropes -- as it did last year, when everyone under the Washington sun had their own so-called OSHA reform proposals -- some businesses undoubtedly felt freer to cut health and safety costs. Without a strong OSHA, you won't have a strong profession. While the basic reasons for working for improved worker health and safety have not changed, the context for our work has. Workplace hazards are changing, and our economy is changing in ways that have made many Americans perplexed, anxious, and angry, as Secretary Reich discussed with you yesterday.

Twenty-five years ago, Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which created OSHA, assuring "so far as possible" a safe and healthy workplace for America's working men and women. But, 25 years ago, no one would have guessed that OSHA in 1996 would be dealing with hazards like violence in the workplace, blood borne diseases, and repetitive motion injuries. Fatal and nonfatal work injuries have changed significantly in many ways.

Mines, factories and construction sites are no longer the top settings for fatal injuries. In fact, only one in four deaths on the job are caused by falls, fires, explosions, electrocution and exposure to other toxic materials, or being hit by objects, hurt by equipment, or crushed by collapsing materials.

The leading on-the-job killer today is highway accidents, with truck drivers accounting for the largest number of deaths by occupation. Violence and homicide are Number 2, killing more than 1,000 American workers a year. Most at risk are cashiers and salespeople in small groceries and other retail establishments, and taxi drivers. Although women account for only 8 percent of occupational deaths, homicide is the Number 1 cause of death.

And, nearly two-thirds of workplace illnesses are associated with repeated trauma, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and the numbers are rising. Ergonomic hazards have become so endemic, we can no longer ignore them. What Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote about the farmer -- "whose bones ache with the day's work that earned it" -- can now be said of too many factory and office workers.

If today is like every other day, 18 Americans will be killed on the job, 137 will die from work-related conditions like exposure to chemicals and other hazardous materials, and 18,600 will be injured. Accidents alone are estimated to cost the economy upwards of $100 billion a year.

These are numbers we cannot tolerate -- in human or in dollar terms. At the same time that workplace health and safety are changing, and our resources are strained, the American economy is also undergoing profound changes.

Business and government must do what it takes to help our fellow citizens navigate into what President Clinton has called the Age of Possibility. Government can set minimum standards of business behavior. And businesses can strive to exceed the minimum. But we must work together.

That's a key principle of OSHA's reinvention. But, many worker advocates think there isn't enough enforcement, or it's not tough enough. Similarly, when many employers think of OSHA, too often they think of nitpicking inspections and paperwork, and too much focus on details and not enough on results.

So, from all sides, people think we could do a better job. In general -- and despite our successes -- I agree: OSHA can do a better job. And doing a better job means closing the gap between our mission and resources.

That's why President Clinton, Vice President Gore and Secretary Reich outlined last year a three-pronged strategy for the new OSHA to make work safer and healthier.

OSHA has embarked on its new course not because its destination -- of safer, healthier workplaces -- has changed, but because we believe we can get there in better ways.

The three cornerstones of the new OSHA are: Giving employers a choice -- between partnership with OSHA and employees to provide better safety and health, or traditional enforcement: If businesses choose the high road of trying to ensure that job sites are safe and healthy, the adversarial relationship will end, and the red tape will be history. If not, we tighten the screws with enforcement.

Using common sense regulations and enforcement, by identifying clear priorities; focusing on key rules; eliminating or reforming out-of-date and confusing standards, and working with businesses and employees to develop new and revised rules. Indeed, constructive partnership is emerging more generally as the way government should do business with business, and work with workers.

And the third foundation of the new OSHA is: Focusing on results -- not red tape.

So, what have some of the results been? We've expanded our Voluntary Protection Program, and our Maine 200 pilot program is going national as the Cooperative Compliance Program. It's already in 11 states.

Focused inspections in construction are a reality. We've redesigned 15 field offices to be able to analyze the causes of injuries and illnesses, and solve or prevent existing and emerging problems -- instead of reacting to them.

And we plan to redesign the rest of our offices during the next three years. We've revamped our rulemaking and complaint processes.

The first results are in for our Priority Planning Process for new regulatory and nonregulatory action this year. Instead of being petitioned by interest groups or directed by Congress to act, OSHA went to the public, through Federal Register notices and public meetings, and asked what our focus should be. More than 125 safety and health hazards were brought to our attention. Each was evaluated, and in December, we announced OSHA's 18 national priorities.

This opportunity to look back on OSHA's 25 years confirmed that much had changed, yet too much had stayed the same. The PPP identified safety and health concerns and hazards that were not on the occupational safety and health radar screen in 1971 -- violence in the workplace, occupational asthma, including latex allergies, and hazardous medications. But, the PPP also identified long-standing, continuing hazards such as metalworking fluids, permissible exposure levels for air contaminants, crystalline silica, and noise in construction.

This month, OSHA announced its Special Emphasis Program for silicosis, to eliminate this lethal, age-old disease in construction, maritime and other industries. We're doing outreach as well as enforcement. Workplaces with known cases of silicosis will have a higher priority for inspection. Employers who have implemented effective silicosis prevention programs will benefit from focused inspections. Compliance officers will verify their effectiveness with interviews and spot checks.

NIOSH estimates that more than 2 million American workers are exposed to crystalline silica. At least 100,000 are at high risk of exposure from sand-blasting and drilling. The silicosis death rate has not changed in recent years; about 300 Americans die each year.

The tragedy is that the dangers of exposure to crystalline silica and silicosis have been recognized at least since Pliny the Elder in 1st century Rome. There aren't too many social or public-health problems about which one can honestly say: 1,900 years is long enough.

Another result we hope to have in the can by the time I see you next year is a national health and safety program standard for all employers covered by OSHA. It would include several basic components: management commitment, employee involvement, work-site evaluation to identify hazards, hazard prevention and control, health and safety training, and periodic check-ups to ensure the program is working. We're putting together this standard because companies should develop safety and health management systems themselves.

Let's juxtapose our results and the new OSHA with our recent budgetary and legislative trials and tribulations. Some people would call it the year from hell. Others, the year from Washington. But, I repeat myself. For the first seven months of this fiscal year, we were operating under a 15 percent budget cut from FY95, lurching from one CR to another. Meanwhile, Congressional so-called reform proposals threatened to turn the OSH Act into a paper tiger.

Supporters of the bill introduced by Senator Judd Gregg say it's a codification of our reinvention, and a way to assure that reinvention survives after the management at OSHA changes. However, our reinvention is quite different, because we insist on performance. Their proposals ask less of employers and give more reductions and exemptions in return. Their bill fundamentally misses the point that a credible enforcement program is essential to foster the demand for partnership.

Rep. Ballenger backed down from a distinctively disastrous proposal, only to bounce back last month with the delightfully titled Small Business OSHA Relief Act (HR3234). It would put OSHA into the "mathematical straightjacket" of cost-benefit analysis rejected by the Supreme Court for all regulatory standards, and -- by defining "small" business as a cozy 250 employees -- would mandate penalty breaks at 99 percent of work sites.

As Secretary Reich said yesterday, we will not support changes which weaken worker protection.

Rolling back protection is not what the American people want. Gutting OSHA, and making worker safety and health a low priority -- as some in Congress would do -- is a recipe for failure. It would represent the failure of a decent, just society, and an economic failure to protect the tremendous productive resources of our nation's human capital -- its people. The old politics of confrontation simply can't go on. The experience of the 104th Congress shows how little gets accomplished when partisan bashing takes precedence over working together to find solutions. We see how disgusted the American people are.

People talk about the need for common ground. Yet, the political middle ground has largely emptied out. Shrill extremists -- soundbite provocateurs -- have drowned out the voices of compromise and cooperation.

Collaboration between government, business and workers -- the new politics -- is a way out of this gridlock. Profits are not the enemy. Nor is safeguarding public goods like health and safety. We can capture market forces to improve both. It's not a zero-sum game.

In the world outside Washington, growing numbers of employers realize that improved health and safety benefits the bottom line by increasing productivity.

I've also had the pleasure to realize that bringing employees into the process yields big benefits. They have the knowledge and they know the stakes when it comes to the hazards they face. But they also take pride in finding solutions. When I was in Ford's Engine Plant #2 in Cleveland, one of the hourly workers leading the tour told me about how he had worked with industrial hygienists and plant manufacturing engineers to design the ventilation system for the machine tools he used. As we entered his work area, he asked me to take off my shoes off, so I wouldn't get anything dirty. His pride in his work was enormous.

This is real common ground. Obviously, we've taken a lot of hits, and we face a lot of obstacles. Yet, we've still achieved significant successes: We've shown that partnership works, by bringing in stakeholders, and through programs like our Cooperative Compliance Program. We've redesigned 15 field offices. We've developed our standards priority planning process and we've streamlined how we handle worker complaints, getting results faster with less hassle. We've created targeted industry-specific offices like our new Directorate of Construction. We've implemented focused inspections, and issued crucial new standards like fall protection, asbestos, electric power generation, and lead in construction, with more in the pipeline.

It's in all our interests to improve safety and health. It's in no one's interest to see America's workers injured or killed, companies lose money, or government resources wasted.

At OSHA, we're here for the long haul. We're working for the day when every man and woman who goes to work comes home to their families with their souls intact, their bodies unharmed, and their dignity uncompromised.

This is great work. It is an honor to share it with you. And I thank you for your efforts.
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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