Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 09/17/1996
• Presented To: National Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

SEPTEMBER 17, 1996

Thank you, Stan Weinrich [vice chair of VPPPA Board] for your kind introduction, and thank you for warming up the audience with awards for all of these deserving Voluntary Protection Programs Participants. I'm also very sorry that Robert Stegall [VPPPA Board coordinator] could not be here today because of the very recent auto accident that he and members of his family were in. I also want to sincerely thank you for your support during our legislative and budgetary battles of the last 12 to 18 months.

Some people would call it the year from hell. Others, the year from Washington. But I repeat myself.

Maybe you could call yourselves the Safety Stars, since that's what you are.

While I certainly have a lot that I want to tell you about how a new, reinvented OSHA is doing business, emphasizing VPP-style partnerships, I know I'm just a warm-up act too . . . for Secretary Reich, who will be beamed out to you in a few minutes, and J. Roger Hirl, a CEO who prefers the more informal -- and distinguished -- title of Chief Safety Officer of the Occidental Chemical Corporation.

In his 13 years as president and nearly six years as CEO of OxyChem, he has made a huge commitment to safety at all of the company's far-flung subsidiaries and work sites. About half of Oxy's 30 manufacturing sites have VPP status, including the Dallas headquarters. I first met Roger a year into the Clinton Administration, when I helped him present an OSHA Star Award, not in Washington, but in a real swamp -- at Oxy's Lake Charles plant in the Louisiana bayou. We met again this spring amid considerable bluster -- no, not in Washington, but in the wind and rain of Niagara Falls, where I gave out yet another OSHA Star for OxyChem's Hooker division.

So, it's good to meet again in the sunnier climes of Florida. Indeed, sunshine is just the right weather to be discussing the theme of your conference: The Power of Partnership.

The VPP Participants' Association -- I'll avoid the acronym -- has done such a good job in showing the true power and value of partnership that I know many in this room, myself included, have learned a lesson or two. In this auditorium today, there are representatives of businesses, unions and government agencies that have taken a page from your book. I know the Departments of Energy and Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency, have implemented VPP-style programs, and the Johnson Space Center has dramatically cut its worker injury rates by following your lead.

But, most germane to my standing up here and speaking to you: The new OSHA has made partnership a cornerstone of how we do business with business and work with workers.

The Voluntary Protection Program has not only more than doubled in size in the last three years, but is truly becoming more integrated with other OSHA initiatives -- from our Cooperative Compliance Programs and the standards Priority Planning Process, to helping us with our new focus on problem-solving in our regional offices.

You don't need me to cite statistics on how partnership is paying off for you . . . but I will, since I can't resist and the results are so impressive. Injury rates at VPP companies are 45 percent below their industry averages. The California Department of Insurance found that big and small employers can cut their injuries and illnesses by as much as 40 percent if they establish VPP-like programs. These numbers translate into more profitable, competitive businesses by cutting workers' comp costs, lost workdays, lawsuits and OSHA fines. And they mean that workers and their families avoid the trauma and loss of injury and illness.

Many VPP principles are embedded in the three-pronged strategy for the new OSHA unveiled last year by President Clinton, Vice President Gore and Secretary Reich. OSHA 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 foundations of the new OSHA are:

* Give employers a choice -- between partnership with OSHA and workers 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 get tough with enforcement.

* Use common sense regulations and enforcement: Identify clear priorities; focus on key rules; eliminate or reform out-of-date and confusing standards, and work with businesses and employees to develop new and revised rules.

* Focus on results -- not red tape.

An underlying premise is that the agency clearly distinguishes between responsible employers and those who neglect their workers' well-being, and treats them differently. OSHA has long been criticized for being too confrontational. With the new OSHA, when employers fragrantly disregard safety and health, we're tougher than ever with enforcement. But, in all other cases, we believe in partnership, and sharing responsibility, for safe and healthy workplaces and workers. We want to work with -- not against -- employers and workers. We want to talk with business leaders to gather information, and hear complaints and suggestions.

The VPP is a model for OSHA's new philosophy. But, there are many other initiatives we're rolling out that also embody the new OSHA.

Our Cooperative Compliance Programs, which focus on high-hazard workplaces, may be for the other end of the spectrum as our VPP participants, but the common denominator is partnership. Indeed, partnership has been the name of the game with our Maine 200 and Wisconsin programs for high-hazard work sites -- which we've been rolling out nationwide as Cooperative Compliance Programs. By offering employers with high numbers of injuries a chance to work with OSHA to develop safety and health programs, we have been eliminating many more hazards than we ever could have done on our own, and we're doing so for fewer Federal dollars. By the end of this month, we'll be in 27 states.

If the national results are anything like what we've had in Maine or Wisconsin for manufacturing firms, we have a big success on our hands. Eighty percent of the original Wisconsin companies reduced their injury and illness rates in the first year. The average drop for all 200 companies was about 30 percent, but 100 improved their performance so much that they fell off the list entirely.

Just last week, VPP participants helped explain and assist Idaho businesses that are just launching a CCP program. I know that you will be expanding this sort of mentoring in other states, with worksites that we identify as needing assistance with health and safety programs.

As many of you know, one of OSHA's highest priorities in the coming months is to propose a national safety and health program standard. It would call for a safety and health program for all employers covered by OSHA, and include several basic components: management commitment, employee involvement, work-site evaluation to identify hazards, hazard prevention and control, health and safety training, and periodic evaluation of the program to make sure it's working . . . Sound familiar?

Safety and health programs have been proven -- by VPP participants and many states -- to be effective and systematic ways of identifying and remedying existing hazards and preventing new ones. Beyond the VPP universe, tens of thousands of other companies already have implemented such programs. Half of the states already require some or all businesses to establish such programs. A few of these date back decades, but most have come on line in the last few years. After Hawaii established such a program, the number of lost workdays fell by 13 percent, according to a GAO study. And another study of employers in Oregon and Washington found that, for every dollar spent on such programs, most employers save between four and six dollars.

Businesses and workers should be the ones to develop and implement safety and health programs. But a Federal standard is needed to ensure consistent protection of all American workers, and to simplify the regulatory burden on employers who operate in more than one state. We want it to be flexible, recognize the needs of small business, require minimal documentation, and be phased in slowly. And OSHA would work with employers on compliance assistance.

Again, from the very beginning, we've involved workers, employers, safety and health professionals, and trade associations in this rulemaking to ensure that the standard will be fair and shows basic common sense. We've held meetings with hundreds of stakeholders who wanted to participate in developing this proposed standard. And the VPP was there. We will soon send out draft text to get comments from stakeholders.

This kind of interaction helps us move from command and control to advise and consent, and our proposed standard will reflect that.

Other examples of how OSHA is trying to work with businesses, rather than dictate, is our increasing use of incentives.

OSHA also has reduced penalties for firms with superior records through our Program Evaluation Process and for firms that rapidly correct problems, through our Quick Fix program.

Under our focused inspection program, when our inspectors for to a construction worksite with a good safety and health program, we only look for hazards that cause the four leading causes of death in construction.

With our new standards Priority Planning Process, instead of being petitioned by interest groups or directed by Congress to act, we went to the public last year. We used Federal Register notices and public meetings, asking businesses, workers and others what they thought our priorities should be. VPP participants were among those who helped us identify more than 125 safety and health hazards. Each was evaluated, and in December, we announced 18 national priorities.

Similarly, the recordkeeping revisions we proposed this year included many ideas gathered from talking with all of our stakeholders.

Negotiated, or consensus, rulemaking is another. We are completing a two-and-a-half year process to develop protections for workers engaged in steel erection. Business, labor and government representatives have met 11 times, and a standard is slated for publication in December. This is a major success that permitted those who must abide by a government regulation to help write it. Workers and employers in the synthetic rubber industry also collaborated on a standard on 1,3 Butadiene. For appropriate issues, getting interested parties together in a collegial atmosphere, under the guidance of a trained facilitator, can be an outstanding way to develop standards and eliminate red tape.

OSHA also has increased its use of nonregulatory approaches, by offering assistance to employers, translating bureaucratese into plain language, and eliminating outdated, duplicative and conflicting standards. During the last five years, OSHA has provided free assistance to more than 100,000 small and medium-sized businesses through state-run Consultation programs that we fund, identifying and eliminating a half million workplace hazards. And we've written guidelines to help employers address new hazards like workplace violence.

We're changing our culture, redesigning our 67 field offices to become more proactive, to identify, analyze and solve problems, instead of just reacting to them. Again, VPP participants are already playing a significant role.

Our revamped complaint-handling process not only is improving OSHA's service and efficiency, but also reflects a new give-and-take with employers. We put some not-so-revolutionary technology, like phones and faxes, to work.

Not long ago, in our Atlanta office, we got a complaint call from a worker at Delta Airlines. Traditionally, we would have sent out an inspector. Instead, an inspector called Delta, talked to a vice president, and asked how the hazard could be corrected. For hours, company officials agonized: Was the call a hoax? They'd never heard of OSHA telephoning to get a company's side of the story and to help, rather than just taking the allegation and swooping down to inspect. After realizing this was for real, Delta fixed the hazard quickly, and got a taste of the new OSHA in action.

Handling worker safety and health complaints used to eat up about a quarter of our resources. In some offices, like Cleveland, they took almost all staff time. It used to take an average of 39 days to handle complaints there. With the new approach, we've cut the turnaround time to nine days.

In July, we made the new complaint policy effective nationwide. As a result, we've cut the median time it takes to handle complaints by two-thirds, as well as unnecessary inspections. It helps workers. It helps employers. And it helps us. It's a triple win.

Now that I've talked about the new OSHA's efforts to build collaborative partnerships to identify problems, develop standards, and implement workplace safety and health programs, I don't want you or anyone else to think that the agency has backed away from enforcement. As I've said, we're giving employers the choice of partnership or enforcement, but companies that willfully neglect their workers' well-being will have no choice.

Partnership works, but only in tandem with common-sense, but credible enforcement. Serious violators will face serious consequences. Reinvention does not mean putting on kid gloves. We've upped the ante for employers who fail to care for their workers safety and health.

Our overall inspection numbers are down, as we've pushed partnership programs like the CCPs, not to mention being shut down for a month, and losing 10 percent of our staff. We've reduced citations for minor paperwork violations by 71 percent during the last six years. But, last year, we had 126 significant cases over $100,000, an 85 percent increase over the 1994 fiscal year. And we've already issued 150 significant cases during the first 11 months of this fiscal year.

In July, for example, OSHA announced an egregious case in Maine that has gained particular notoriety because it was so egregious. We cited one of the country's largest egg producers, DeCoster Egg Farms in Maine, with more than 40 violations and $3.6 million in penalties. The conditions were deplorable: They had 700 employees, working up to 15 hours a day. They were denied overtime, forced to handle dead chickens and manure potentially infected with Salmonella, and exposed to live electrical parts and overflowing septic tanks.

At DeCoster, they went through the motions: As participants in Maine 200, they said they wanted to partner with us, and they went so far as falsifying a photo to make us think they were complying. When we learned that they had failed to cooperate or abate serious hazards, it set in motion a comprehensive inspection. This case clearly demonstrates that OSHA offered choices, and the employer made a decision . . . and it gave us no choice but to do traditional enforcement.

The local community formed watchdog groups, and two supermarket chains have stopped buying from DeCoster. It's been an unprecedented public response. This is how enforcement should work.

Well, I've talked about partnerships and incentives, and enforcement, but one of the biggest incentives for business to improve health and safety is an eye on the bottom line.

Growing numbers of companies realize that better health and safety increases productivity, reduces the number of person-hours lost to injuries and illnesses, and cuts workers' comp costs, which tripled in the U.S. during the 1980's. Focusing on the true value of safety and health -- as you're doing and we're doing in our outreach -- has great potential to increase workers' freedom from risk and businesses freedom from unnecessary costs. Talking about incidence, frequency and severity rates may not mean much to most managers, but dollars and decency do.

A little simple math illustrates just how powerful this message is: To make a 5 percent profit, a company would need $260,000 in sales to recoup the costs of a single workers strain or sprain. This is based on an average direct cost of about $5,900 for a strain, plus another $7,100 in indirect costs.

A $5,000 accident would mean that: a soft drink bottler would have to bottle and sell more than 600,000 cans of soda; a bakery would have to bake and sell more than 2 million donuts, and a paving contractor would have to lay nearly two miles of two-lane asphalt road.

A commitment to safety and health has a positive payback. Every workplace in America needs to learn that truth. Every one of us must spread that truth. The VPP is doing just that in mentoring and training scores of other businesses, as well as your many conferences, where the safety-and-health message is spread. And every American worker and employer should benefit from that truth.

Finally, I'd like to spend a few minutes reflecting on the last years and what's ahead for OSHA. After my first year in Washington, I was asked what frustrated me the most. I said: "How hard it is to get anything done." In the last year, after the budget battles and shutdowns, I realized one of the best things about Washington in how hard it is to get anything done.

Obviously, an election is coming up in just seven weeks, but no matter who wins, the basic challenges for OSHA will be the same.

How do we keep up the momentum of the quarter century since OSHA was established -- when the workplace death rate was cut in half -- by making America's six and a half million workplaces even safer? Despite our successes, it's an understatement to say that huge challenges remain, when each year more than 6,000 Americans die from injuries on the job, another 45,000 die from work-related illnesses, and nearly 7 million are injured or made ill because of their work.

How do we better reduce the dangers of long-standing hazards like silica and lead, while addressing very new on-the-job hazards like cumulative trauma disorders and violence?

How do we best reconcile OSHA's fundamental -- and huge -- mission with the agency's resources -- $305 million and 1,100 inspectors? That translates into just $2.75 for each worker, and one inspector for every 100,000 workers.

And a question that I particularly address to you: How can government, business, workers, and safety and health professionals work together most effectively to reach the common goal of a safe and healthy workforce? We are open to good ideas.

We've made great strides with OSHA's reinvention, but it's clear we have more to do, especially given the last year's Congressional attempts to slash our budget and legislate us into oblivion. A year and a half ago, a new Congress was huffing and puffing, and hoping to blow OSHA down. I knew that turbulent times lay ahead. But, little did I imagine how stormy 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.

We endured two government shutdowns; 13 stop-gap continuing budget resolutions -- lurching along at a 15 percent budget cut from FY95; assorted legislative salvos, and months of employee anxiety, I'm happy to report that, in a few weeks, the 104th Congress will be history. Our budget -- when it finally came out seven months late, in April -- was better than many thought. If the CR had gone on, we would have had to lay off people, crippling the agency for 18 months. But, we came out down only 2 percent. Again, thanks so much for your support.

We were also pleasantly surprised this summer, when the forces of reason in the House defeated, 216-205, an ergonomics budget rider that would have made it impossible to propose a standard, publish, issue voluntary guidelines, or even collect data on cumulative trauma disorders.

In addition, we've been doing battle on the legislative front, where a few Members of Congress have wanted to turn us into a toothless Occupational Safety and Health Advisor. A bill introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg asks less of employers and gives more reductions and exemptions than our reinvention. It misses the point that credible enforcement is essential to foster the demand for partnership, or that partnership is a means, not an end. In the House, Rep. Cass Ballenger backed down from a distinctively disastrous proposal, only to bounce back with the delightfully titled Small Business OSHA Relief Act that would mandate penalty breaks at 99 percent of work sites.

And, while the President has proposed $341 million for OSHA in the next fiscal year, the current House Republican proposal -- $298 million -- is a 5.5 percent cut after inflation. Together with the FY96 cut, this would continue to chip away at our resources. With the clock running out for a FY97 appropriations bill on September 30, it looks like we'll be operating once again under a Continuing Resolution, with an unknown funding level at this time.

Rolling back protection is not what the American people want. Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for increasing public efforts to improve health, safety and the environment. 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.

Inside Washington, safety and health issues easily become polarized. People are tired of this. The politics of polarization 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. People talk about the need for common ground. Yet, the political middle ground seems to have emptied out. Shrill extremists -- soundbite provocateurs -- have drowned out the voices of compromise and cooperation.

And this brings me back to the seemingly simple, but successful, idea of partnership. Real 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.

Beyond the Beltway, the American people aren't buying extremist solutions. Workers and employers recognize the benefits of partnership. In addition to improving the bottom line, bringing employees into the process yields other big benefits: Workers know the stakes and have the knowledge when it comes to the hazards they face. They also take pride in finding solutions.

When I was in a Cleveland manufacturing plant, one of the hourly workers -- a 37-year veteran and a union member -- told me how he had worked with safety professionals and plant manufacturing engineers to develop the ventilation system for the machine tools he used. As we entered his work area, he asked me to take off my shoes, so I wouldn't get anything dirty. His pride in his work was enormous.

This is the kind of thing we need more of. Not the posturing of the politicians. This is real common ground. Not the mine fields of the extremes. The middle ground still exists. At OSHA, we know it. And in this audience, you know it.

The alternative is the status quo . . . or worse, sacrificing Americans health, safety and economic security in the shortsighted interest of short-term gain. Downsizing safety and health out of industry and government is the starting-gun for a race to the bottom -- trying to compete with countries with low wages and low safety standards. This is one race we can never win, and we don't ever want to win.

At OSHA, we've taken a lot of hits, and we face a lot of obstacles. We will continue to expand our reinvention efforts. We must, because the gap between our mission and our resources -- less than 1 in every 5,000 Federal dollars -- won't go away . . . no matter what Congress or anyone else does. Reinvention isn't like changing channels. You can' turn around an agency overnight, or with the flash of a press release.

America's businesses need skilled, productive, healthy workers to boost the output of quality goods and services. If companies stop thinking of health and safety as a burden or an expendable option -- and embed it in their culture -- they will get improved morale, productivity and company image; fewer workers comp costs, lawsuits and fines, and, in the long run, higher profits.

We will keep moving ahead, but we need a few things: discipline, focus and commitment to our reinvention, to stay on course; strong support from stakeholders like you, and adequate financial and human resources.

It's in all our interests to improve safety and health. And 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 bodies unharmed, their souls intact, and their dignity uncompromised.

This is great work, and it's an honor to share it with you.

Thank you very much. And now I'd like to turn over the floor -- or, at least, the airwaves -- to Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and to your keynote speaker, Roger Hirl.
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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