Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 09/09/1997
• Presented To: Voluntary Protection Program Participants' Association Conference
• Speaker: Watchman, Gregory R.
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Remarks of Gregory R. Watchman
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health
Voluntary Protection Program Participants' Association Conference
New Orleans, Louisiana

September 9, 1997

Partners For Life

Thank you. I am very excited to be here in New Orleans this week for the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association Annual Conference.

Back in Washington, people talk a lot about "commitment." But sometimes the rhetoric isn't matched by reality. Sometimes you have to watch people's actions rather than their words to see just how committed they really are.

But you -- all of the members of the VPP Participants' Association, your managers and frontline workers -- you are the embodiment of commitment.

As a group, your achievements are phenomenal. You've heard the data before -- your lost workday injury rates are 60 percent below industry averages. And you have saved your companies tens of millions of dollars a year.

You have achieved these things not just by words, but by actions -- by investing your time, and your energy, and your resources in worker protection -- as corporate citizens, and as individual citizens.

So I am delighted to be here this afternoon to help kick off this terrific conference. Your ranks are stronger than ever, with a crowd of over 1700 people expected this week. As a group, you reflect an amazing diversity. You are here from all over the country; you represent many different industries; you are managers, and front line workers, and safety and health professionals, and you have a vast breadth of experience in occupational safety and health.

The program Lee Anne Elliott and her staff have put together for this week is equally diverse. It boasts nearly a hundred different discussion panels on an amazing range of topics: everything from ergonomics to eye safety, from scaffolds to silicosis. But there is one common thread throughout all of the programs and panels, one common thread that brings all of us together: partnership. All of you have recognized how important partnership is for the success of any endeavor. And it is particularly critical to the success of worker protection efforts.

Now, partnership is a pretty good thing in its own right. But ultimately, its value depends on what it is intended to achieve. For example, "partners in crime" doesn't sound like much of a policy goal. But protecting America's working families from needless tragedies sounds like a pretty good one. And that's what this partnership -- the one between OSHA, the VPP members, and the managers and workers at VPP sites, is all about. We are not partners for profit, or for publicity, or even just for compliance -- we are partners for life.

What is the most important thing in your life? I think it's a safe bet that for most of us, the most important thing is people. And while many prominent people in the field of safety and health are here today, let's face it -- the most important people in each of our lives are probably not in this room. The most important people in our lives are probably our spouses, our significant others, our parents, our children, our families.

I would guess that what matters most to most of us isn't the product we produce, or the service we provide, or the work we do, but rather who we come home to at the end of the day. And that's why the VPP is not just an exemplary partnership, but perhaps the most important one we could have. Its goal is to make sure we do come home at the end of every day, safe and sound, to the people who are most important to us. Yes, good safety and health practices save money. Yes, corporate good will may derive from VPP membership. And yes, compliance with OSHA's protective standards is important. But VPP is so much more. It is a partnership for safety, a partnership for health, a partnership for life.

We started the Voluntary Protection Program 15 years ago, and designated ABB Air Preheater in Wellsville, N.Y. as the very first VPP Star site. Someday, perhaps this site will be as famous as the first McDonalds in Illinois! Today, there are 370 sites in federal and state VPP programs, protecting over a quarter of a million workers.

Even though this represents only a small portion of the workers OSHA protects, you are making a huge difference, and others are taking notice. Just last month Fortune magazine recognized VPP as "government reinvention at its best."

There are many good examples of how all of you are using partnership to help protect America's working families. In fact, every single VPP member is a good example. But let me specifically mention some of the fine successes you have enjoyed.

Let's start with ABB Air Preheater, the very first Star site: their lost workday case rates are 77 percent below the industry average. Or Austin Industrial, which pioneered as the first contractor in the VPP, with rates 85 percent below the industry average. Or Milliken & Company: they have 34 federal and state VPP Star sites, and lost workday case rates that are an incredible 96 percent below the industry average. How many working families are still whole today because accidents were prevented by these companies' proactive approaches?

Speaking of success stories, I am very much looking forward to John Dillon's keynote address. International Paper has had an extraordinary relationship with the VPP, with 22 sites already approved for VPP membership and another 30 waiting in the wings. I am delighted that he is here with us this afternoon.

Many companies struggle just to protect their own workers in the face of time pressures, production deadlines, and cutthroat competition. But you tackled that task with commitment and energy, and then asked, "What can we do next?" So three years ago, OSHA began a mentoring program in which VPP members volunteer to help other companies and worksites qualify for VPP membership. Today, 18 companies have earned VPP membership with the help of a VPP corporate mentor. And more than 60 other companies are currently paired with VPP members, working to improve protections for more than 100,000 workers, and moving their worksites towards VPP membership.

VPP members have also begun to mentor small businesses as well. Last December, I awarded VPP Merit status to Dock Resins, Elf Lubricants, General Magnaplate and Epicor -- four Linden, New Jersey companies, each with fewer than 100 employees -- after a successful mentoring effort by neighbor Exxon Chemical. Occidental Chemical has offered to mentor a similar group of companies in the Houston area, and we would very much like to see this program grow substantially.

A number of you have also shared your expertise through the special government employee program. Under this program, a member site volunteers one on-site employee to assist OSHA in evaluating VPP applicants. The employee goes through a one-week training course, and is then called by OSHA to join an on-site evaluation team at a site that has applied for VPP membership. Thus far, we have designated 56 special government employees, and they have done outstanding work. This program makes very creative use of extraordinary corporate good will, and allows OSHA to leverage its limited resources to continue the expansion of VPP.

You have also proved invaluable in our efforts to advance the New OSHA. When we needed help on Cooperative Compliance Programs, you were there. When some in Congress called OSHA "the Gestapo of the federal government," and "a budget-busting, competition-killing, business-breaking economic catastrophe," and America needed a reasoned voice from the corporate community to explain the value of OSHA's programs to Congress, you were there. When we needed help with our five-year Strategic Plan, you were there. When we needed help on safety and health programs, you were there. Time and time again, on issue after issue, the VPP Participants' Association Board, and Lee Anne Elliott and her staff, as well as many VPP members, have come through for OSHA. I want to thank you on behalf of the Secretary, all OSHA staff, and all working families, for your many efforts.

The New OSHA

Now, I'd like to update you on some of the other partnerships the agency is pioneering as part of the New OSHA. As you probably know, there are three principles that comprise President Clinton's New OSHA initiative. First, offer employers and workers a choice between traditional enforcement and partnership. Second, instill common sense in the agency's regulatory and enforcement policies. And third, focus on results -- meaning reductions in injuries, illnesses and fatalities -- rather than red tape.

The New OSHA is changing for the better. We are finding ways to protect more workers for fewer dollars. We are making our enforcement program smarter, and fairer, through improved targeting, and by treating responsible employers differently from neglectful ones. We are focusing less on individual, technical violations, and more on systematic approaches to finding and fixing hazards on an ongoing basis. We are measuring performance by improvements in the lives of working people, rather than by the numbers of inspections, citations and penalties. And most importantly, we have developed a host of new partnership programs to serve as an alternative to traditional enforcement.

Joe Dear deserves a great deal of credit for his vision of the New OSHA, and for developing and implementing so many new initiatives. I know that when Joe left the agency last January, many worried that the New OSHA programs would go with him. Let me be very clear: the President, the Vice President, the Secretary and I remain unalterably committed to the New OSHA. I am sure that when Charles Jeffress is confirmed as the next OSHA Administrator, he will bring the same strong commitment. OSHA has been at the forefront of Vice President Gore's government reinvention effort, and has received 12 different Hammer awards. But I don't need to tell you that -- the VPP Participants' Association was one of the Hammer Award recipients, and the City of Scottsdale, Arizona, a new VPP member, was another.

OSHA Partnerships

Let me briefly describe some of the partnerships we have developed as part of the New OSHA. The Cooperative Compliance Program, or "CCP" is modeled on our success in Maine with Maine 200. CCP offers employers with high injury rates who are on our priority list for inspection an opportunity to set up a comprehensive safety and health program, and find and fix hazards. If they agree to do so, we will move them off the priority list for inspection, and onto a secondary list.

Currently, there are nine federal and six state CCP programs up and running. We will be establishing CCP programs in the other 20 federal OSHA states -- including right here in Louisiana -- starting next month. In fact, you have played a valuable role in CCPs. I want to take a moment to thank the many VPP members that have helped to set these programs up or mentored CCP participants.

Together, we are seeing some very promising early results. In Wisconsin, for example, participating employers saw their injury and illness rates decline by an average of 30 percent. That's a terrific rate of success.

Let's remember what that really means -- that because of this program, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Wisconsin's working husbands, wives, and parents are going home safe and sound to their families every night that would otherwise have experienced a serious workplace injury, illness or fatality.

The CCP program has the potential for exceptional turnaround stories. In fact, let me tell you about GE's Power Generation Division in Maine. In the early 1990s, they had one of the highest numbers of workers compensation claims in the state, and as a result were invited to join the Maine 200 Program in 1994. They agreed to participate, improved their safety and health program, and found and fixed a great number of hazards. They graduated from Maine 200 last year. Then they decided, why stop there? They decided to seek VPP Star recognition. There were many skeptics. But they went from fair, to good, to stellar. They earned their Star flag on April 23, 1997.

In addition to the statewide cooperative compliance programs, we have also established many local partnership programs. These are similar to CCPs, but are designed to address the particular safety and health problems faced by area offices within their jurisdiction. We're seeing some great early results here, as well. In Fort Worth, for example, we worked with over two dozen high hazard employers to improve safety. More than half reduced their injury rates; over a third reduced their rates by more than 25 percent; and some cut their rates by more than 50 percent. In Kansas, we worked with the oil and gas industry and its workers to reduce fatalities. There were 65 fatalities over the preceding 15 years. In the year and a half since the program's inception, there has not been a single fatality.

We are also establishing regulatory partnerships whenever possible. Last year, we issued a new standard on butadiene that was based on an agreement between rubber industry employers and workers. Earlier this year, we began a negotiated rulemaking on fire protection in shipyards, bringing together workers, managers and safety and health professionals from the maritime industry. This summer, we issued new, comprehensive longshoring standards, which also had substantial input from maritime employers and workers.

In addition, the steel erection negotiated rulemaking team -- made up of industry and labor representatives -- signed a consensus proposal for a new steel erection standard. We expect to publish their proposal in the next few months. Just last week, I welcomed the members of a new advisory committee on metalworking fluids to their first meeting. And beginning this month, we will be holding one regional ergonomics conference a month. At these meetings, employers and workers will present their best practices in reducing musculoskeletal disorders.

Some partnerships are outside the traditional models of enforcement and regulation altogether. For example, earlier this year OSHA signed an agreement with the asphalt paver manufacturers in which they voluntarily agreed to put engineering controls on all new paving machines, to protect workers from asphalt fumes. We reached a similar agreement with styrene users for the voluntary reduction of styrene exposure levels.

Lastly, we are promoting worksite-specific partnerships at every workplace in America through safety and health programs. As you know, safety and health programs afford employees and managers an opportunity to work together to find and fix hazards, reduce injuries and illnesses, cut costs, improve morale and increase productivity. They represent a common sense approach with a long history of success.

Now, when I use that term I don't mean a paper program that just sits on a shelf. Action is much more important than the paper. Unless, of course, you're John Dillon, in which case the paper is pretty important.

We are emphasizing safety and health programs in many New OSHA initiatives, like Cooperative Compliance Programs, Focused Inspections, the new penalty reduction system, as well as in many existing programs, like VPP and the Consultation Programs. We are also working on a proposal for a safety and health programs standard.

So the New OSHA is turning to partnerships to improve worker protections in a great many ways. But of course, not every employer wants to partner with us. Unfortunately, even in 1997, there are still many employers who are doing little or nothing to protect their workers, and are reluctant to change. Every week, OSHA enforcement staff brief me on employers that have willfully exposed their workers to grave danger. So we must still maintain a strong and credible enforcement presence. But we would always prefer to work in partnership.

The Job Is Far From Done

Together, through VPP and other partnerships, we have made tremendous strides in worker protection. You have much to be proud of. But we can't afford to rest on our laurels. As a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows, the job is still far from done.

The study estimated that in the course of a single year, 66,000 workers die in safety accidents or from occupational disease. That's more American workers dying in a single year than we lost during the entire nine-year Vietnam War. In addition, close to a million workers develop occupational illnesses. Another 13.2 million workers are injured.

The study estimated that these incidents cost our society $170 billion a year in workers compensation costs, medical costs, and lost productivity. That's twice the estimated cost of Alzheimer's Disease, and six times the estimated cost of AIDS.

Our job is still far from done. But in both the public sector and the private sector, we know that we live in a world of finite resources. At OSHA, we have about 2,000 federal and state inspectors spread out across this nation to protect 100 million workers. And in corporate America, downsizing has become as much of a tradition as the company picnic. So we all have to find ways of doing more with less.

Well, there is a way. There is a way you have pioneered for the safety and health community, and its called partnership. Once again, its a partnership for safety, a partnership for health, a partnership for life. But as I said, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels -- not when 25 workers are being injured every minute. Not when a worker is dying every ten minutes.

So let me be clear about what OSHA will do to expand its efforts. We are developing a broad range of partnership programs to advance the principles of the New OSHA. Consistent with this effort, we have expanded VPP by over 50 percent since the beginning of last year. We now have about 320 federal VPP members and about 50 state VPP members. I pledge to you today that in the next year, OSHA will add another 100 federal VPP sites to the program. This represents about a 30 percent increase in the size of the federal VPP program.

Now, let's talk about what you can do. Today, I want to issue a strong challenge to each VPP member corporation, and to each of you. By the end of this week, make a commitment -- a commitment as strong as your commitment to this program -- to add at least one more project to your partnership efforts.

There are many options. Commit to mentoring a CCP site or VPP applicant. Commit to helping a group of small businesses qualify for VPP membership. Commit to designating a special government employee from your VPP site. Commit to adding another corporate facility to the VPP program.

This is a multiple choice challenge. Choose one or more than one project. But don't just stop where you are. You haven't attained greatness by being satisfied with your achievements, but by continually setting higher goals. Keep it up!

Whatever new project you choose, I know it will be a success. All of you have already demonstrated your capacity for excellence.

OSHA values your leadership. We welcome your assistance. And we look forward to working with you as partners for life.

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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