Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 06/08/1999
• Presented To: North American Panel on Occupational Health Issues American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition
• Speaker: Jeffress, Charles N.
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Charles N. Jeffress
North American Panel on
Occupational Health Issues
American Industrial Hygiene
Conference and Exposition
Toronto, Canada
June 8, 1999

  • Forecasting the future is a bit like predicting the weather. You focus on the high probabilities, but stay open to other possibilities. And conditions are always changing.

  • In the 20th Century we've moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy to a service-based, technology-driven, information-age economy. Of course, many of the old hazards remain with us. We still need to guard machines, protect workers at heights and guard against hazardous atmospheres in confined spaces-whether they're in silos on the farm or chemical tanks in the factory. But we also must be alert for emerging issues among high tech workers and service providers.

  • We must be prepared and committed to work cooperatively. We must reach across the borders that separate nations, acknowledging that these borders no longer impede commerce and should not impede worker protections. We must draw together employers and employees. We must bridge the gap between regulators and the regulated community.

  • And we must bridge the artificial lines separating industrial hygienists and safety engineers. As we move into the next millennium, I believe we will see more merging of these disciplines. Cross-training will be critical for those who want to serve their clients well and advance professionally.

  • Industrial hygienists will need to know about machine guarding, and safety engineers will need to know how to sample for asbestos. And everyone will be looking for ways to minimize the physical stresses and repetitive motions that can result in work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

  • AIHA and ASSE have recognized the need to work together. I was particularly pleased to receive a copy last month of the joint letter from James Rock and Fred Fleming. Your plans for cross-over communications, continuing education and networking opportunities will benefit everyone in the safety and health community. I especially appreciate your willingness to join hands to lend your professional expertise and extensive experience to the ongoing debate on ergonomics.

  • Your emphasis on ergonomics as a high priority and your letter opposing any further delay in OSHA's adoption of a standard have been most encouraging. We know ergonomics programs are the right way to go-for both workers and their employers. But the noise from those who oppose, ipso facto, any government regulation sometimes drowns out the voices of reason. OSHA welcomes your continued involvement as a professional association as we move through the rulemaking process.

  • I want also to encourage your personal efforts, both as participants in the rulemaking and as occupational health experts at your company or with your clients. Too often there's a disconnect between what safety and health professionals know and practice and what the trade association representing an industry is saying in Washington. The missing link in the chain is the company CEO.

  • People purporting to speak for American business in Washington keep repeating their mantras: there's no sound science behind ergonomics, no proof that ergonomics programs reduce injuries and no need to do anything until we know exactly how many repetitions produce injuries. Everyone here knows that none of these statements is true.

  • But does your CEO know that? It will take courageous and forthright CEO's, educated in the practical realities by safety and health professionals, to counter these baseless assertions.

  • Reducing musculoskeletal disorders is one of the most serious occupational health challenges of the late 20th Century-and the 21st as well. More than 600,000 workers in the U.S. experienced these injuries in 1997-one-third of the lost work-time injuries. Workers' compensation costs alone amount to $15 to $20 billion each year for work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

  • We know enough to act now. We cannot delay any longer. Workers are being hurt. This is costing business money. And the cost to workers and employers is too great to ignore.

  • Furthermore, we know how to solve these problems. We know that ergonomic programs work. They reduce injuries. They improve employee morale. And they save money for employers. Good ergonomics is good economics.

  • AIHA has voiced its support for OSHA moving forward without delay. So have others:

    • the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,
    • the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,
    • the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses,
    • the American Nurses Association,
    • the American Public Health Association,
    • the AFL-CIO, and
    • numerous individual unions and individual employers.

I thank you for your support of ergonomics and urge you to participate in the hearings that will follow the publication of our proposal.

  • About the same time we publish our ergonomics proposal this fall, we will issue our final recordkeeping standard. It will take effect in January 2000.

  • I think you will be pleased with the changes. The new rule will offer clearer definitions of work-relatedness, a better explanation of what constitutes light duty and a much improved and simpler recordkeeping form. I hope your local chapters will consider hosting recordkeeping training sessions this fall to help employers learn about the new rule and get ready to use the new forms.

  • As we look at the regulatory issues facing OSHA at the close of this century, many of the most significant concerns are health issues. Industrial hygienists are now playing an increasingly important role in protecting workers from occupational harm

  • One of the disadvantages we've all faced as we seek to reduce the risk of occupational illness is good, solid data that ties specific illnesses to specific workplace conditions. We desperately need better data.

  • The good news is, it's coming. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health next year will launch another occupational exposure survey to find out more about workplace hazards, exposures and controls. The new survey will cover both more industries and more issues than the surveys NIOSH conducted in the 70's and 80's.

  • If your company is included, the survey form will probably wind up in your office. I encourage you to take the time to fill it out. Your participation will help us get an accurate picture of occupational health in America. You'll have access to the data when the survey is completed via the Internet or on CD-ROM.

  • Another problem we face in the standard-setting arena is our permissible exposure limits for air contaminants. In naming PELs one of your top ten priorities, you've also demonstrated your concern about these limits. Although more health data would be welcome here, we already have data that show we need to make changes. The PELs are now more than 30 years old. Many are hopelessly out of date. We have identified seven chemicals as priorities for rulemaking: carbon disulfide, glutaraldehyde, hydrazine, trimellitic anhydride, manganese, perchloroethylene and carbon monoxide. The first proposals should appear in the Federal Register next spring.

  • But what we really need is a better process than substance-by-substance rulemaking. We need a consensus-building process. Some have suggested we name committees devoted to specific chemicals or families of chemicals. But with four or five committees per year-even if each committee finished its work in one year-it would take us 100 years to deal just with the chemicals that we already have limits for. We've got to find a better way.

  • I am open to suggestions. For OSHA to keep pace with the chemicals used in the workplace, we're going to need a different mechanism from the process we use to set other standards. And a different process may well require legislative action. We want something that's better and faster. Before we're finished, I suspect that business, labor and OSHA will have to approach Congress for help in defining -- and paying for -- a different way for promulgating exposure limits for chemical hazards.

  • I am also looking to speed the rulemaking process within OSHA. We need to move standards from initial concern to Federal Register final much more rapidly. I've established a new pilot structure within the agency. We've established ten cross-functional regulatory teams. Each team is concentrating on two or three standards.

  • We've included members from all the disciplines we draw on in drafting standards-safety specialists or health scientists, economists, risk assessment experts and attorneys-on each team. Further, each team will call on compliance officers, occupational health nurses or doctors and others as necessary to complete their work. That will cut down on multiple reviews. If this approach works, we'll make it permanent.

  • The best description that I have read of what we are trying -- and the problems -- is contained in the May 15 issue of your Synergist magazine. If you're interested in what we are trying to do, check out that article.

  • We also need to examine nonregulatory approaches to reduce the risk of occupational disease. Trying alternative strategies was a key recommendation of OSHA's priority planning process. I've asked Adam Finkel to head that effort.

  • Last month, OSHA accepted a health and safety partnership program with the North American Insulation Manufacturers and two installation organizations to protect more than 200,000 workers exposed to fiberglass-a project that Adam helped lead. The agreement includes a voluntary PEL for fiberglass that's 50 times more protective than the current nuisance dust standard that covers fiberglass.

  • I see this approach as model for future OSHA programs that involve voluntary efforts from manufacturers and employers to take more responsibility for protecting employees against known hazards for which we don't have adequate standards. Look -- and ask -- for more from us in this regard.

  • While OSHA primarily deals with domestic concerns within the United States, there is increasing interest in addressing workplace safety and health issues on a global basis. In part, this is a result of trade agreements such as NAFTA. Within such agreements, there are often provisions for harmonizing or coordinating approaches to various safety and health issues.

  • In addition to trade agreements, there is growing recognition that international approaches may help individual countries leverage the limited resources they have to devote to occupational safety and health.

  • That's one reason we've been working to develop a globally harmonized system for hazard classification and labeling requirements. The US, Canada and Mexico, as well as a number of other countries around the world, have developed unique systems to inform workers about chemical hazards and ways to protect themselves. Unfortunately, these requirements often differ greatly. Today, a chemical may be considered a carcinogen in one country but not another. Or labeled flammable for purposes of transport but not in the workplace. Given the extensive international trade in chemicals, workers may be faced with unfamiliar labels or conflicting information on the same chemical.

  • In 1992, we agreed to develop a globally harmonized system. Every country that uses it will have the same hazard definitions, label requirements, and safety data sheet provisions. OSHA has taken the lead role for the U.S. because we believe this system can improve worker safety and health both in the United States and throughout the rest of the world.

  • However, the process has been quite intense and difficult. While harmonization of standards is a laudable goal, it isn't easy. Chemical hazard communication standards are often based on different cultural and political structures that cannot be reconciled. Success in harmonization goes beyond the technical realm of safety and health into areas which deal with a society's values and ideals. We'll need to bear this in mind as we proceed and as we move to harmonize standards in other areas.

  • It is important to remember, however, that if technologically advanced countries can develop harmonized international standards, this will help developing countries establish effective occupational safety and health programs more quickly and prevent developing countries from repeating our experiences with occupational injuries and illnesses.

  • Moving to U.S. national legislative issues, it's been a busy year on Capitol Hill. More anti-OSHA bills have been introduced in the past 12 months than in the past three years. It's consuming considerable agency resources to address this legislation.

  • One of the bills that we talked about last year was Senator Enzi's SAFE Act. This year's version is somewhat improved, but the Administration remains opposed to the bill. One of the issues on which OSHA and AIHA continue to disagree is the appropriateness of using third party auditors in the stead of OSHA inspectors. As I told you last year, I support this concept as long as it is not tied to exemption from penalties. The current bill is driven by an effort to provide an easy way to avoid OSHA penalties for those who can afford consultants. There's no accountability. The bill would not permit OSHA to propose penalties for a two-year period even if violations found at the worksite were willful or resulted in the death of a worker.

  • Substituting third party audits for OSHA enforcement is equivalent to giving H&R Block carte blanche to waive IRS audits and penalties for taxpayers they prepare returns for. I welcome more third party audits, but in the context of compliance assistance, not as a replacement for OSHA enforcement. I'm also open to some limits on OSHA's use of the audits, but I believe it is in the best interest of workers and their employers to permit continued OSHA access to them.

  • We've talked a lot about rulemaking this morning-and it's a critical issue. But one of my goals at OSHA is to strive for balance in our approach to workplace safety and health. That means an emphasis on outreach and education, partnership and enforcement as well.

  • Many state OSHA's have long stressed teaching safety and health. Federal OSHA has never had full-time staff dedicated to teaching employers and employees about safety and health, except for a small staff at the OSHA Training Institute in Chicago.

  • President Clinton has asked for an additional $12 million in OSHA's budget for 2000 to place full-time occupational safety and health training and technical assistance staff in every federal OSHA office. I want OSHA to become as well known for our training and technical assistance as we are for our inspections. If this proposal is funded by Congress, we will have taken a big step towards that goal.

  • We are continuing to explore opportunities to work cooperatively with employers to reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Our premier partnership, the Voluntary Protection Program continues to pay big dividends. Today more than 500 workplaces, representing 180 industries save $110 million each year because their injury rates are 50 percent below the average for their industries.

  • In addition, we're trying vertical partnerships, like the one we have with ConAgra Refrigerated Foods-establishing effective safety and health programs in every plant they own. We also have industry-specific partnerships such as SESAC for steel erectors in Colorado and the Roofing Industry Partnership for contractors in Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.

  • We would prefer to have combined partnership and enforcement through the Cooperative Compliance Program, but the court ruled against CCP this spring. We do, however, know which individual workplaces need help, thanks to our data initiative. I wrote to 12,500 employers in April advising them that their lost workday injury and illness rates for 1997 were more than double the private sector average, encouraging them to get help from their workers' comp carriers, private consultants or OSHA consultants. We will inspect about 2,200 sites from this pool by the end of 1999 under our new Site Specific Targeting Program.

  • The court ruling on CCP has not only influenced our partnership and enforcement efforts, but also our work on our top-priority standard -- safety and health programs. I know AIHA has identified this standard as a high priority as well.

  • However, the court's ruling that CCP should have been treated as a standard indicates a need for us to do some additional analyses for our safety and health program standard. As a result, we will publish it at the end of 1999 rather than this summer as we had hoped. Again, I look forward to receiving some helpful comments-from AIHA and from you as individuals with expertise in establishing effective safety and health programs.

  • As we enter the next millennium, I hope we will have in place this building block standard. It will form a solid foundation and framework for our efforts to protect workers against workplace hazards.

  • We cannot see the future clearly. We gaze more often through a snow globe than a crystal ball. Yet we do know that occupational health issues will continue to increase in importance. Duties for IH's are more likely to expand than contract. You'll work with new industries. You'll face new hazards. You'll design new strategies.

  • What won't be new, what won't change is the central tenet of your profession: doing whatever it takes to protect workers. Whether you serve as private sector employees, independent contractors or government inspectors, you'll continue to put workers first. We look forward to working with you in the days ahead as we seek together to send every worker home whole and healthy every day.

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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