Powered by Translate
Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 10/08/2002
• Presented To: National Safety Congress
• Speaker: John L. Henshaw
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.
John L. Henshaw
National Safety Congress Address
San Diego, CA
October 8, 2002

I have always lived by the motto -- "What you have done is not as important as what you are about to do."

The future is what drives us... and the opportunities seized and accomplishment made good are the measures of our success.

Good morning. I'm very happy to be here today, sharing the stage with my good friend Dave Lauriski of MSHA. We are the Dynamic Duo of safety and health at the U.S. Department of Labor, and it's an honor to work with a true safety and health professional and excellent manager.

One of the nice things about being at the National Safety Congress is that I'm talking to professionals who care --

  • who care about the lives of working men and women of this country;

  • who know the value of safety and health;

  • who have the talent and skills;

  • who are fired with the ambition to make a difference.

What I would like to do this morning is begin with the conversation about where we are... where OSHA is... and where we might go together in selling value and implementing solutions.

Today, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, we need to find the most effective ways to produce the ultimate result -- saving lives and preventing injuries and illnesses.

Where We Are...

Emphasis on workplace safety and health has been improving for over a century and much of the progress has been realized since the Occupational Safety and Health Act, or OSHA, came into being over 30 years ago.

Over the last 30 years, and because of the hard work of professionals like yourselves working in industry... labor... professional groups... academia and government -- workplace fatalities have been cut in half and occupational injury and illness rates have declined 40 percent.

While at the same time, U.S. employment has doubled from 56 million workers at 3.5 million worksites to 111 million workers at 7 million sites.

The good news is occupational injuries and illnesses keep declining.

Last December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics told us that injuries and illnesses are continuing on a downward trend. In the year 2000, injuries and illnesses in our nation's workplaces were the lowest in eight years. New BLS data, released just last month, tell us that fatality rates were essentially unchanged in the past year.

There were significant drops in worker fatalities in manufacturing, from homicides and among youth -- but, at the same time, there was an increase in deaths among construction workers, Hispanic and Latino individuals and those dying from falls.

Our professional talents and organizations have to be more focused to assure that future news will be much better -- that we address the areas where real problems exist -- that we change the slope of the fatality and injury and illness curve even more dramatically.

The reality is -- too many workers are still going home hurt or sick, and more than 16 per day aren't going home at all. We want to drive the statistics into the ground.

And I'm convinced we can do it.

You know, there's a song that says, "One is the loneliest number." Well, where injuries and illnesses are concerned, zero... is the perfect number.

But looking at numbers and trends is only one part of our task.

I think we, as professionals, must refresh and renew our own central commitment to the value of safety and health, and we need to show that commitment so that everyone believes in the value and ultimately realizes the value in safety and health.

Adding Value

I know you share with me the fundamental belief -- safety and health add value to every business, every workplace and every life.

As leaders in the safety and health field, we need to drive home this message -- we need to articulate the message in ways we have never done before -- we need to do it in human and economic terms.

We need to document and underscore the truth that protecting people on and off the job is in everyone's best interest -- our economy, our businesses, our fellow workers, and our families.

It's all integrated... it's all related... it's all important to our way of life.

And after September 11, 2001... we have a clearer understanding of how important human life and security are to our American culture.

To be successful, we believe OSHA must be more outspoken and more articulate... and demonstrate leadership in advancing safety and health -- beyond the traditional regulatory approach.

Our message is clear and simple: Safety and health add value -- To your business... To your workplace... To your life.

The value for businesses makes sense: focusing on safety and health programs is the right thing to do; it saves money and adds value to the organization.

When workers stay whole and healthy, businesses experience:

  • lower workers' compensation insurance costs,

  • reduced medical expenditures,

  • decreased layout for return-to-work programs,

  • less faulty products

  • lower costs for job accommodations for injured workers, and many more.

Those are direct costs, and they're just the tip of the iceberg.

Safety and health can make big reductions in indirect costs, too:

  • lost productivity,

  • costs of training for replacement workers, and

  • overtime expenses.

And on the value added side, fewer injuries and illnesses also lead to

  • higher morale...

  • better labor/management relations...

  • reduced turnover...

  • and better use of human capital.

In addition, business benefits from an enhanced corporate reputation as a caring employer.

Valuing your people adds value to your company.

The best companies, large and small, build a brand reputation that is synonymous not only with an excellent product, but also an outstanding management philosophy where safety and health is a core value.

In an era of Enron and concerns over corporate "bad actors," we have an opportunity to help good companies -- large and small -- realize value in safety and health, and be recognized as responsible businesses that comply with the law, and care about their employees and communities and the products and services they provide.

In no other era before have we seen the power of the American people granting the "right to operate."

In respect to the value to workers, the relationship is even clearer.

Getting hurt or sick is not just physically painful. On-the-job injuries and illnesses can significantly reduce income, increase stress and hinder a full family life.

As I said, this message is simple, yet the implications are profound.

We need everyone to acknowledge and understand this -- if we want to drive occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths down: Zero is the perfect number.

By any measure ... Safety and health add value ... To your business... To your workplace... To your life.

What OSHA is Doing

I want to share with you what OSHA is doing to sound the drumbeat for the value of safety and health -- some of it is using the heavy hand of the law, and some is education, assistance and encouragement.

I've already said that my overarching goal for OSHA is to provide leadership in safety and health on the job.

While doing this, OSHA is focusing on three strategies --
  1. Strong, effective, fair enforcement;

  2. Outreach, education and compliance assistance; and

  3. Partnerships and voluntary programs.

Our triple bottom line is --
  • reduced occupational fatalities,

  • reduced occupational injuries, and

  • reduced occupational illnesses.

We believe these strategies, which are identified and authorized by the OSHA Act of 1970, are the future for the Agency.

There has been a running debate regarding OSHA's impact on workplace safety and health. I am not here to further that debate.

But, I am here to firmly state my belief -- and the data supports that belief -- that in proper proportions, these three strategies will significantly improve OSHA's impact on workplace conditions and reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities on the job.

Let's start with enforcement

A strong enforcement program underlies everything else we do... and where we must use enforcement to get employers attention... we will.

Since we have finite resources, we must identify those employers where this strategy is the only way to create change, achieve compliance and injury and illness reductions, and continuous improvement.

Recently, we have refined and expanded our strong, fair and effective enforcement program.

We pledged we'd do 36,400 inspections this year -- the highest total in eight years -- and while the numbers aren't all final ... I can tell you ... we've met our goal -- even with the large resource commitment to the very successful World Trade Center Recovery Project.

To keep the pressure on, we've promised to add another 1,300 in 2003 -- and we'll meet that challenge as well.

Our general industry "site specific" targeting efforts -- identifying 13,000 sites that need to improve -- and conducting inspections at those with the highest injury and illness rates -- are making a difference. We are also establishing a targeting system for constructions sites... so we can focus on sites that need our enforcement attention.

Final numbers are not in yet... but so far... at nearly 75% of the workplaces we've inspected, we've found serious, repeat or willful violations.

That means we're going to the right places ... and we're delivering the right message. Our purpose is not to visit sites to issue citations and collect money for the general treasury. Our job is to create change where it is needed... to assure a safe and healthful workplace.

I get discouraged when I look at our statistics and see that we're visiting the same workplace again, and citing the same violations again.

Over the past four years, the very same violations have made our top five list each year. The order differs a little from year to year, but it's the same five -- scaffolds, hazard communication, fall protection, respiratory protection and lockout/tagout.

We don't want to see those same violations... and we don't want to go back to the same places.

We want change -- real, lasting change -- fewer hazards... and, most importantly, fewer injuries and illnesses... and no lives lost.

Now, what about standard-setting?

One of the changes that OSHA has made is paring down its regulatory agenda. I know it has raised a few eyebrows.

We've stopped publishing a lengthy "wish list" and started putting out a realistic "to-do" list.

We want every one to know what we're really working on over the next 12 months. And you can hold us accountable for those milestones.

Outreach, education, and compliance assistance

Standards and enforcement form the foundation -- but there are other, more effective ways to reduce fatalities, injuries and illnesses -- and we are perfecting those strategies to make the biggest impact we can.

The first is outreach, education and compliance assistance.

We've promised to expand assistance for those who want to do the right thing, and to focus on the special needs of Hispanic workers. We're keeping that promise in a number of ways.

Through our:

  • 60 Compliance Assistance Specialists located in every OSHA area office;

  • Our new Cooperative and State Programs Directorate in Washington, D.C.

  • Our 50 Consultation Service organizations;

  • 12 Educational Centers

  • Our 139 strategic partnerships; and

  • Growing outreach and educational Alliances

We are making serious headway in delivering education and assistance across the nation

Hispanic Outreach

One of the areas that demand our attention is the need to reach immigrant workers, particularly Spanish-speaking workers. Even as overall workforce fatalities have fallen, deaths among Hispanic workers have increased... up 12% in 2000 and 9 percent in 2001.

The 2001 increase resulted from a rise in Hispanic worker fatalities in the services and agriculture industries... added on to construction increases in prior years.

We've taken a number of steps to reach out to Hispanic workers.
  • Our toll-free help line ... 1-800-321-OSHA ... offers assistance in English and Spanish.

  • We now have a Spanish web page that will continue to grow.

  • We have a Spanish version of All About OSHA and many other documents in Spanish.

  • And a new brochure for workers and community groups that describes OSHA services -- all in Spanish -- and to reinforce that we are not the INS.

Our Hispanic Task Force is meeting regularly to identify additional strategies.

We have a partnership or working relationships with the Hispanic Contractors of America, National Safety Council, Mexican Consulates, the Mexican Government, and many other organizations to work together on outreach, education and assistance. We also have Spanish training programs and community outreach efforts across the nation.

Soon we will have public service announcements in Spanish for radio and television. I spent this weekend learning more about what others are doing in this area... and I am very impressed with what the National Safety Council and others plan to do.

OSHA is committed to working with you and everyone -- to zero in on the problem and reverse this deadly trend.

New Outreach

OSHA has another outreach effort that might interest you -- QuickTakes -- our e-mail news memo. Launched in March, we already have more than 20,000 subscribers.

If you haven't signed on, I urge you to do so. It's free and it's fast... just 2 pages every 2 weeks, and in 2 minutes you can keep track of safety and health issues that OSHA is working on. Sign up at www.osha.gov and it will come to your email address.

We are also working on programs for reaching youth with a job safety and health message. By this time next year, I hope to tell you a lot more about that.

Partnerships and Voluntary Programs

But right now, I want to talk about our cooperative programs. Of course, our premier partnership program is the Voluntary Protection Programs. This year VPP celebrates its 20th anniversary.

We're very proud of the 864 sites recognized by that program for their exemplary safety and health programs. But OSHA covers 7 million sites -- so 864 is a tiny, tiny fraction of that number -- not 1% but 1/100th of 1%. We need many, many more sites on the road to excellence.

So, I challenged the members of the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants Association, who've already reached excellence, to help us make a quantum leap -- from 800+ sites to 8,000 sites.

I would challenge you as well... as safety and health professionals. Help us draw more workplaces -- big and small -- on to the pathway to excellence in workplace safety and health.

We do have a plan to make this leap... a strategy for dramatically expanding sites in VPP. We've tentatively called it "jump start." We haven't worked out all the details yet. But the idea is to set up an entry-level program for companies ready to make the commitment to excellence in safety and health -- but who still have a ways to go to achieve excellence.

VPP works. Thousands of injuries and illnesses have been avoided. And because it is so successful, we must make sure it is not used as a lever. We cannot as true safety and health professionals trade lives and injuries and illnesses for something else.

As we expand VPP, we are going to expand our strategic partnerships. We now have 139 such partnerships involving more than 6,200 employers and covering nearly 216,000 workers.

Everything we do must add value... so let me give you an example how these partnerships add value.

The Idaho OSHA/General Contractor Partnership Program was originally conceived in 1996. The partnership started slowly, but grew rapidly over the last year.

There are currently 27 participating general contractors. Seventy percent of them entered the program in the last two years.

Each applicant contractor is screened by the Boise Area Office to ensure an effective safety/health program, acceptable injury rates, and acceptable history of OSHA inspections.

OSHA also conducts an on-site verification before a contractor is accepted as a partner.

The most important part of the program is that the general contractor, who controls the site, agrees to do site safety and health audits on all of the subcontractors on the site... and to hold subcontractors accountable for hazard-free work areas. OSHA, in return, places a lower priority on inspecting these sites.

Because the general contractor does site audits, this gives the partnership tremendous leverage. For example, in a typical year, the Boise Area Office will do from 250-350 construction inspections. By contract, in 2001, the partnering general contractors did 3,197 audits of subcontractors at 525 different sites. The leverage is about 10 to 1.

The partnership has reduced construction fatalities in Idaho. For example, during the period 1990-1995 (before the partnership), there were 25 construction fatalities in Idaho. During the period 1996-2000, there were 18 construction fatalities. During the period 2001-2002, there have been three construction fatalities. Between 1991-2001, the Idaho Workers Compensation Claims Rate for all construction SIC codes improved from 25 injuries per 100 employees to 14.2 injuries per 100 employees.

All this, while the construction employment was increasing from 17,000 to 37,000 during the same period.

The partnership has had other intangible benefits. The relationship between the construction community and OSHA is now one of cooperation, rather than conflict. The Idaho AGC Chapter, labor organizations and many other partners are proud of their safety records, and proud to be OSHA partners.

When you land at the Boise airport, you will see a banner "Proud to be an OSHA Partner."

We've also created a new form of partnership... Alliances.

Alliances focus on leveraging resources on one or more elements such as training and education, outreach and communication or promoting the value of safety and health.

We signed our first alliance earlier this year with the Hispanic Contractors Association. We now have nine alliances, with two more to be signed within the next few weeks.

We're looking for many, many more to follow. The purpose is to sign on others to work with us on reducing injuries and illnesses particularly professional societies.


Let's turn now to some other issues that the agency is addressing... like ergonomics.

This past spring, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced a new four-pronged approach to address musculoskeletal disorders. It includes industry-specific guidelines, enforcement through the general duty clause, outreach and assistance and research recommendations with the help of an advisory committee.

Our goal is simple. Musculoskeletal disorders represent one-third of the injuries American workers experience every year. And we want to reduce those numbers as quickly as possible. This plan is the best way to do that.

I know this has been touted as a voluntary program. Let me make something very clear: reducing ergonomic hazards and providing a safe workplace is not voluntary.

Here's what we've done so far:

First, we have identified three industries so far for OSHA guidelines -- nursing homes, retail groceries and poultry processors.

Our draft guidelines for nursing homes came out the end of last month and we just extended the comment period until October 30.

We'll also be having a stakeholder meeting in November... and expect to have final guidelines for nursing homes... and draft guidelines on the other two... completed by the end of the year.

In addition to the guidelines we're developing, we're looking to individual industries to work on guidelines of their own... and some are beginning to do that.

Last month, I signed an agreement with the American Furniture Manufacturers Association and the state of North Carolina. AFMA has agreed to work with North Carolina to develop its own set of ergonomics guidelines for furniture manufacturing.

The printing industry and others are exercising great leadership and doing the same.

On enforcement... this summer we issued a national emphasis inspection program for nursing homes. Ergonomics will be a chief focus, but we'll also be looking at hazards associated with slips, trips, and falls; bloodborne pathogens; and tuberculosis.

I want to be very clear here. We will not be enforcing guidelines. And we will not institute special inspection programs for every industry that we develop guidelines for. But we will be looking at ergonomics... and we will focus our efforts on those companies that have not acted in good faith.

As part of our outreach and assistance effort, we're updating and expanding our ergonomics webpage.

We're developing additional interactive software... eTools. I know many of you are aware of them and find them helpful.

And we'll be working through alliances to further spread information on best practices. That's the primary purpose of our alliance with the printing and graphic arts industry, for example. They help spread the word and achieve implementation in their industry.

We're moving forward on the research front as well. We expect to announce our advisory committee and hold the first meeting very soon.

New Directions

We have a number of strategies to take us into the future. We have a team working diligently on a new strategic plan to chart our path.

And we are putting in place new performance measurements to help us track our progress in achieving our goals as we implement our new organizational structure.

As you know, the first key to success in any organization is selecting, developing and retaining the right people... assuring we have the best talent at every level of the organization.

We will hire the best, we will train the best, and we will retain the best. We are emphasizing work experience and bilingual skills. We are improving entry and continuous training, and we will create an environment where individuals can be successful.

We're doing some restructuring to build on our strengths and better configure the agency in line with our goals and help us do our jobs faster, better and more efficiently.

We have added a Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs to direct our outreach, education and assistance.

We've added an Office of Small Business Assistance to better address the needs of the 80 percent of U.S. companies that are small businesses.

We've combined our health standards and safety standards groups to form one new Directorate.

And, with our good friend Dr. John Howard on board, we'll work more closely with NIOSH on several fronts.

We're also working to expand training opportunities for our staff. We've launched a certification program for OSHA's safety and health staff to encourage our people to become CSPs and CIHs. We have already seen a marked increase in certifications in the last year.

We are enhancing our compliance officers training overall... rethinking, upgrading and improving the programs we offer. And soon we'll be doing that in a new, larger facility outside Chicago with state-of-the-art resources to improve our training further.

The Challenge

I spoke earlier about how safety and health add value - to your business, to your workplace, and to your life. And about how important it is that OSHA leads the drumbeat for that message. We need your help, as members of the safety and health community, to re-state and repeat that message -- from your own perspective -- to explore it further, to expand and expound upon it. We need you to help us move the dialogue forward. To reassess the ways in which safety and health add value.

In respect to ergonomics, under this four-pronged approach, we need to establish guidelines, and other processes to reduce MSDs as quickly as possible.

The nation is watching to see if we can properly address ergonomics... find the size that fits. One way or another, ergonomics hazards must be addressed and occupational MSDs must be reduced.

We need to take up the challenge of adding to the dialogue articulating the value of safety and health in all terms.

The time is right to step further... study and evaluate the data... to put that value in business terms... to get managers and executives to share the findings with others.

Business schools will not include safety and health into their competitive curriculum unless there is clear business value.

That must be our project for the future.

In some ways, we have an impossible task -- in this country we have more than 7 million employers with 111 million workers in hundreds of different industries.

There's no way we can accomplish our goals alone.

I know you will agree with me, by working together more closely then we have ever done in the past, the results of our combined efforts will be far greater than the sum of our individual efforts.

Some might say we are seeking the impossible - no deaths on the job... and an injury and illness rate sloping to that perfect number of zero.

But, no other result will do.

It's been said that by asking for the impossible, we attain the possible.

We CAN save lives. We CAN reduce injuries and illnesses.

We can do it -- with all of us working together as leaders in safety and health.

# # #

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

Thank You for Visiting Our Website

You are exiting the Department of Labor's Web server.

The Department of Labor does not endorse, takes no responsibility for, and exercises no control over the linked organization or its views, or contents, nor does it vouch for the accuracy or accessibility of the information contained on the destination server. The Department of Labor also cannot authorize the use of copyrighted materials contained in linked Web sites. Users must request such authorization from the sponsor of the linked Web site. Thank you for visiting our site. Please click the button below to continue.