Congressional Testimonies - (Archived) Table of Contents|
| Information Date:||07/11/2002|
| Presented To:||The Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions U.S. Senate|
| Speaker:||Henshaw, John L.|
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT,
SAFETY AND TRAINING
COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR, AND PENSIONS
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) commitment to protecting America's workers. I would like to discuss the Secretary's and my vision for the Agency and the progress OSHA has made in achieving that vision.
When we look at the state of occupational safety and health in this Nation, we have many reasons for optimism. The overall injury/illness rate has fallen for eight consecutive years. At 6.1 per 100 workers for 2000, it is the lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started compiling this statistic. Since OSHA's inception in the early 1970's, the rate has fallen by about 45 percent. In those industries where OSHA has targeted its inspections, such as construction, there have been even greater improvements.
Furthermore, the extent of cooperation between business, labor, and OSHA, as measured by the number of partnerships, participation in voluntary programs, and amount of compliance assistance activity, also is higher than ever and continues to promote worker protection.
Even though we have accomplished much, there is also a great deal left to do. Nearly 6,000 workers suffer fatal accidents each year, and in the year 2000 alone, there were 5.7 million injuries and illnesses in America's workplaces. Our work is focused on driving down fatalities and injuries and illnesses even further.
Enforcement and Regulatory Actions
Enforcement and regulatory actions are certainly two of our important tools for making workplaces even safer. Mr. Chairman, you asked me to discuss OSHA's enforcement and regulatory efforts over the past year, so let me summarize our work in those areas for you.
Strong and fair enforcement is an essential part of our mission. OSHA is increasing its enforcement efforts in 2002, with more inspections, particularly health inspections, and targeting the most dangerous workplaces. We plan to conduct 36,400 inspections this year and will focus more enforcement on workplaces such as construction and other high-hazard industries. Approximately 3,000 of our inspections will be in workplaces with the highest injury/illness rates. Employers with fourteen or more injuries or illnesses per 100 workers that result in lost workdays can anticipate an inspection. Employers who experience a rate of between eight and fourteen injuries or illnesses are on a secondary list for possible inspection.
Effective and credible enforcement depends upon the skills, training, and expertise of OSHA's compliance officers. To accomplish their mission, compliance officers must be experts in workplace conditions and the industrial practices in the workplaces they visit. To ensure that compliance officers have that expertise, OSHA plans to increase the number of compliance officers who are certified by professional associations of industrial hygienists and safety engineers. Certification will improve respect for compliance officers and increase employer and employee trust of OSHA enforcement staff. We are also considering recruitment of more compliance officers from the private sector and allowing staff to complete internships with employers. These steps will strengthen the effectiveness of our compliance officers and enable them to become more familiar with the workplaces and industries that they inspect.
OSHA is also setting realistic goals and meeting its objectives for our regulatory program. I have spent the past year assessing the Agency's capabilities and planning regulatory priorities. OSHA's regulatory agenda now reflects an honest appraisal of what we can reasonably accomplish and the commitments we plan to meet.
Publishing "wish lists" of regulatory actions that never get accomplished harms the Agency's credibility in the eyes of both employers and employees. For instance, we recently removed several shipyard projects from the Regulatory Agenda. Although some of these projects had been on the Agenda for as long as twenty years, they did not involve significant changes or improvements to OSHA's shipyard standards and were never completed. The current Regulatory Agenda, published May 13, 2002, anticipates the publication of two final rules, including a revision to the exit routes standard, and seven Notices of Proposed Rulemaking, in the next six months.
Beyond tightening our regulatory agenda, OSHA's standards setting will also be strengthened by restructuring the Agency. To accomplish our strategic plan goals and program priorities, OSHA has proposed a restructuring of the national office's functions. One of the changes is to merge OSHA's Directorate of Health Standards and Directorate of Safety Standards, to provide a more integrated and efficient approach to rulemaking. The merged organization will continue to carry out the Department's commitment, consistent with applicable law, to development of standards based on sound science, public safety, and considerations of economic feasibility.
Beyond our regulatory and enforcement activities, OSHA is also showing critical and measurable leadership in other ways. During the nine months of rescue and clean up at the World Trade Center site, we protected thousands of workers by overseeing the fitting and distribution of more than 130,000 respirators, handing out over 40,000 pieces of personal protective equipment, and taking more than 6,000 bulk air samples. We also monitored safety conditions to ensure problems were fixed before anyone was hurt. We are pleased to report that we helped return thousands of workers safely to their families at the close of their exhausting shifts. There were no worker-related deaths and only 35 lost time injuries -- a remarkably low rate of 2.3 injuries per 100 workers.
OSHA also played a central role in addressing hazards associated with bioterrorism. Working with the Postal Service, the Centers for Disease Control, EPA, and the FBI, OSHA produced a Risk Reduction Matrix for anthrax in the workplace. The matrix helps employers assess the risk of anthrax exposure in their workplaces and make the timely and accurate decisions necessary to protect their workers.
Another issue in which OSHA is taking the lead is the safety of immigrant workers. As this committee has pointed out, many immigrant workers lose their lives on the job. OSHA is targeting inspections at workplaces such as meatpacking plants and nursing homes where there are large numbers of immigrant workers. We have added Spanish-language capability to our 1-800 emergency number, have created a Spanish web page on our website, and are distributing Spanish-language editions of the notices employers are required to post, informing workers of their rights. We are also publishing much of our informational material, such as All About OSHA, in Spanish and are planning to produce public service announcements in Spanish.
Our outreach to immigrant workers is not limited to Spanish-speaking workers. Many regions have in place or are developing programs and publications to address workers speaking other languages. For example, OSHA's Chicago regional office is engaged in a major outreach effort to Polish-speaking workers and OSHA's Region IX, in the West, maintains an 800 number complaint and technical assistance line that provides information in Spanish, Korean and Tagalog.
Partnerships and Voluntary Programs
For OSHA to truly have a beneficial impact in workplaces, we must go beyond enforcement and standards setting. OSHA-industry partnerships are another valuable means of protecting workers. There are currently 137 active partnerships between OSHA and the private sector that are producing positive results for the Agency's Strategic Partnership Program. For instance, we have recently established a partnership with the Hispanic Contractors Association. HCA has agreed to work with us in identifying and distributing safety and health information in Spanish, helping us to reach Spanish-speaking employers and employees and improve safety and health.
We also are forming partnerships around our effort to address musculoskeletal disorders. Several industry and union groups have agreed to work with us to develop industry-specific guidelines for nursing homes, poultry processing plants and grocery stores. We have also signed an agreement with the printing and graphic arts industry to focus on outreach, training and education on best practices in ergonomics.
In January, OSHA's Boston Area Office formed a partnership with Local 76 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers and the Capco Steel Corporation, which is building a new convention center in that city. Parts of the agreement that will help protect workers include: a comprehensive safety plan, site-specific training for all workers, daily monitoring by the contractor's safety officer, and designation of an employee as labor safety liaison for safety and health complaints.
Last October, OSHA teamed up with the National Association of Minority Contractors to ensure the safety of workers building the Georgia World Congress Center Phase IV expansion project. The agreement also calls for Georgia-wide implementation of safety and health programs to address the most common construction-site hazards.
In Chicago, OSHA signed a regional partnership with an association of telecommunication tower erectors under which all member employers would follow safe-building practices such as having a safety and health monitor on-site at all times, and a safety and health program in place. Tower erectors participating in the partnership will receive focused inspections and could receive reduced penalties in appropriate cases.
OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) continue to be a very effective way of reducing injuries and illnesses. This summer we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the VPP. More than 800 companies participate in Federal or State OSHA VPP with injury/illness rates that are about one-half the average for their industries and safety and health practices that go beyond OSHA's requirements for protecting their workforces. We intend to increase the number of VPP participants by 12 percent this year and to continue using VPP firms to mentor smaller businesses that need assistance in identifying and eliminating workplace hazards.
Another voluntary program involving the private sector in reducing workplace hazards rates is the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). Employers who receive a voluntary on-site consultation visit from a State consultant program may apply for SHARP. To participate, the employer must agree to abate any violations found by the consultant and to institute a safety and health program. In return, OSHA exempts the employer from scheduled inspections for one year. The SHARP program will grow by about five percent this year.
Compliance Assistance, Education, and Outreach
OSHA is expanding outreach efforts to help employers and employees understand and comply with its regulations. For instance, following the release of the new recordkeeping regulation, OSHA placed information about the rule on its website, www.osha.gov, conducted training sessions via satellite, and worked with trade associations and labor groups to enhance awareness of the new rule. By the end of this year, more than 15,000 people will have viewed the satellite training, which also is available for download from OSHA's website. In addition, for workers and employers who do not have access to the web, more than 25,000 packets of printed material about the recordkeeping rule have been distributed. Providing small employers with information about recordkeeping also is the initial focus of a new partnership between the Association of Small Business Development Centers and the Department of Labor.
OSHA's website has proven to be a valuable outreach mechanism by providing extensive technical links to the Agency's documents, regulations, and interpretations, and to electronic interactive tools that help educate employers and employees about workplace hazards. These tools include free interactive e-CATS and expert advisors that help employers determine what requirements apply to their workplaces, analyze specific site conditions, and develop appropriate plans for eliminating hazards. For example, OSHA is developing an evacuation e-tool to help employers comply with standards that relate to workplace emergencies and evacuation procedures. The Department, including OSHA, will be working closely with the Small Business Administration to deploy this tool as part of the President's Business Compliance One-Stop initiative. Business Compliance One-Stop is a single point of service web portal designed to help businesses find, understand, and comply with pertinent laws and regulations at all levels of government.
OSHA's field offices provide additional direct assistance to the regulated community. All of OSHA's 67 local offices now have a compliance assistance specialist who provides front-line advice, training, education, and outreach to the local community. The specialists make presentations to employer and worker organizations, respond to requests for assistance from community and faith-based groups, and alert the public to other forms of assistance such as State consultation offices.
As part of OSHA's implementation of the compliance assistance initiatives announced by the Secretary in June before the National Federation of Independent Businesses, OSHA is, for the first time, establishing an office that will serve as a dedicated one-stop resource for the small business community. This Office will be staffed by personnel who have expertise in small business issues and a commitment to assisting small employers with occupational safety and health matters. More than 94 percent of U.S. establishments employ fewer than 50 workers(1). It is important that we reach out to employers who may not have the resources to hire health and safety experts.
In addition, OSHA works closely with the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy and the small business community during the rulemaking process, consistent with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act.
In addressing workplace hazards, OSHA will sometimes use guidelines or Hazard Information Bulletins when these tools can expeditiously and effectively protect workers. For example, OSHA recently issued a bulletin on how to prevent exposure to beryllium in dental labs. It recommends engineering controls, work practices, training, personal protective equipment, and housekeeping procedures to reduce beryllium exposure.
OSHA's Training Institute, located near Chicago, is regarded as one of the leading safety and health educational facilities in the world. The Institute trains Federal and State compliance officers and consultants and, when space is available, offers training to the private sector. To leverage the facility's resources and allow thousands of private sector trainees to benefit from the training, OSHA established an outreach-training program. Individuals who complete a one-week trainer course are then authorized to teach 10-hour and 30-hour courses in construction and general industry standards. We have also established an on-line outreach-training program that is available through colleges funded by OSHA and the Association of General Contractors. During the past three years, more than 600,000 students have received training through the outreach program.
OSHA is inaugurating an innovative training grants program that differs from the program of the past. The new program will provide short-term grants to a broader range of nonprofit grantees, enabling them to train employees and small businesses in selected occupational safety and health topics, including homeland security. One of the goals for the new grants program will be to develop and pilot test safety and health training materials that will be available on the Internet, allowing a larger audience to benefit from them.
Employers and workers should have no doubt about OSHA's commitment to enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act. At the same time, the regulated community should know that OSHA will provide them with the knowledge and tools needed to comply with the law. The vast majority of employers take their responsibility to safeguard their workforce very seriously. Their commitment is reflected in the reduction in the injury/illness rates and the increased cooperation between OSHA and the Nation's employers. For those who neglect this responsibility there are consequences, as OSHA does not hesitate to use its enforcement authority. However, OSHA's mission is not only to issue citations. Whenever we enter a workplace, whether as inspectors or as providers of compliance assistance, it is imperative that we provide services that will help lead to a safer workplace. Because when OSHA truly helps employers and their employees, the impact extends beyond the confines of the workplace to the overall health and welfare of the community. That is the Secretary's and my goal, to ensure that OSHA makes a difference where it counts -- in the lives of every worker in America.
Footnote (1) U.S. Census Bureau, County Business Patterns, 2000. (Back to Text)
|Congressional Testimonies - (Archived) Table of Contents|