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Speeches - (Archived) Table of Contents
• Information Date: 11/04/2002
• Presented To: 38th Congress of Security in Mexico
• 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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Mexico City, Mexico

November 4, 2002

I am very pleased and honored to be here today. Our two nations have developed a historic level of trust and mutual respect strengthened by common values and purposes. President Bush in September of last year told President Fox and the world "The United States has no more important relationship in the world than our relationship with Mexico. Each of our countries is proud of our independence, our freedom, and our democracy. We are united by values and carried forward by common hopes."

Although the world changed soon after those words were spoken, one thing did not change: our two countries' friendship and commitment to bolstering bilateral cooperation across the wide spectrum of our ties. As a result, there has been an unprecedented degree of bilateral cooperation over the past year. Just this July, I joined my good friend, and counterpart, Dr. Alberto Aguilar Salinas, on a Bilateral Working Group on Safety and Health. Together, we are addressing key issues to both our nations on occupational safety and health such as training of technical assistance staff and inspectors, handling of hazardous substances, occupational safety and health management systems and voluntary protection programs, and promoting a greater exchange of ideas and best practices through the development of a trinational web site. I am pleased to say that Gerry Blanchard, our counterpart from Canada, has also joined in this endeavor making this an historic trinational effort.

It is a high priority of all three nations to build on our cooperation and harness it to achieve important economic and social goals. Indeed, worker safety and health is one of those important goals and is essential to the well being of each of our nations.

I am particularly excited to be speaking to a group that shares my commitment to workplace safety and health. I have spent a lifetime working in this field and each day I am excited about the progress we are making in protecting workers. Like Enrique Ordonez, there is nothing more important then family and helping people.

When I came to the U.S. Department of Labor I decided to emphasize something that everyone in this room already knows -- safety and health add value to every business, to every workplace and to every human life.

I have articulated this message throughout the United States and I hope that you will speak about it in your country. We need to deliver this message in human and economic terms: Safety and health add value.

For workers safety and health adds value by preventing death, injuries, and illness. We can't quantify the loss of a loved one but we can measure the cost of occupational injuries and illnesses. Injuries and illnesses:

  • Reduce income

  • Increase stress

  • Hinder a full and complete life with one's family.

Eliminating workplace hazards increases the quality of life for workers -- American workers, Mexican workers, immigrant workers and workers throughout the world.

There is also a matter of simple justice. We do not want an economy that buys goods at the expense of workers' health, an economy that asks workers to earn their livelihood by endangering their lives.

There is value for business in promoting safety and health in the workplace. It is the right thing to do; it saves money and adds value to the organization.

When workers stay healthy and whole, businesses prosper. They experience

  • Lower workers compensations insurance costs

  • Reduced medical expenditures for their workforce

  • Smaller expenditures for return-to-work programs.

  • Fewer faulty products

  • Lower costs for job accommodations and other benefits for injured workers.

  • Less for overtime expenses

These are direct costs and they are just the most visible. Safety and health can make big reductions in indirect costs for businesses too. They include:

  • Increased productivity

  • Increase quality

  • Higher morale

  • Better labor/management relations

  • Reduced turnover

  • Better use of human resources

There is another value from safety and health. Business benefits from an enhanced corporate reputation as a caring employer. Valuing a company's people adds value to the company. This is particularly important in an age of globalization where a company's reputation is not simply confined to one nation. Each company's actions are publicized and scrutinized worldwide by investors, by the press, by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others.

If you are an irresponsible corporation in your duties to your workers, to your community, or to the environment this will become known. There is no place to hide in an era of globalization.

The best companies in the United States, in Mexico and throughout the world build a brand reputation that is synonymous not only with an excellent product but with an outstanding management philosophy where safety and health is a core value.

In an era where there have been too many corporate "bad actors" in the U.S. we have an opportunity to help good companies -- large and small -- realize value in safety and health. They are recognized as responsible businesses that comply with the law and care about their workers, the communities where they are located, and the products they produce.

To help realize this value and improve our economy OSHA wants to drive occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths down, zero is the perfect number.

To drive toward this target OSHA is focusing on three strategies --

  1. Strong, effective, fair enforcement

  2. Outreach, education and compliance assistance

  3. Partnerships and voluntary programs

We are very fortunate in the United States that when Congress enacted and the President signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 we were given plenty of tools to do our job. By using these tools effectively we can make a significant impact on workplace conditions.

Start with Enforcement A strong enforcement program underlies everything else we do. Where we must use enforcement to get employers' attention? we will.

Since OSHA has finite resources we must start by identifying employers with the most injuries and illnesses. These are the employers who will only change their workforce and come into compliance when the government inspects their workplaces.

We have developed a site-specific targeting program to identify 13,000 sites each year that need improvement. We then conduct inspections at the workplaces with the highest injury and illness rates. We are also establishing a targeting system for construction sites, which is a bit more difficult, since, as you know, conditions on construction sites are constantly changing. We are also focusing on those industries where serious hazards occur, especially where immigrants may work.

Federal OSHA conducts about 37,000 inspections each year focusing on the most dangerous workplaces and places where workers have pointed out dangers. Our goal is to create positive change in those workplaces. We tell our inspectors that if we are going back to the same workplaces time and again we are not doing our job well. OSHA should be helping employers alter their workplace so that we don't have to return. And we are updating and developing standards that help drive our injuries and illnesses and fatalities.

We want lasting change -- fewer hazards and fewer injuries, illnesses and deaths

Effective and credible enforcement depends on effective standards and the skills, training and expertise of OSHA's enforcement staff. Inspectors must be experts in workplace conditions and in the industrial practices in the workplaces they visit. Without strong enforcement, the very best standards will not cause the effect we need to reduce injuries and illnesses.

To ensure that compliance officers have that expertise, OSHA plans to increase the numbers who are certified by professional associations of industrial hygienists and safety engineers. Certification improves respect for the enforcement staff from the private sector.

Outreach. Education and Compliance assistance. Since OSHA inspects fewer than 2 percent of the businesses in the U.S. each year we must use other means to reach employers and employees. The purpose of outreach and compliance assistance is to leverage the resources, which the Federal Government can devote to safety and health by spreading information to thousands of recipients.

OSHA has 67 offices located throughout the U.S. Each of these offices employs a compliance assistance specialist who provides information as well as safety and health expertise to the community. The specialists make presentations to employers and workers organizations, respond to requests for assistance from community and faith-based groups, and alert the public to other forms of safety and health assistance. , Our compliance assistance personnel are valuable resources in their localities.

OSHA's Website is a valuable resource for people all over the world who are interested in occupational safety and health. It contains all of OSHA's regulations, news releases, enforcement policies and other information as well as links to other sites that deal with safety and health. The site received ? billion "hits" last year.

OSHA has developed a variety of computer-based programs to assist employers and workers. These electronic software systems use text, illustrations, and simple animations to instruct users about occupational safety and health and about hazards such as silica, lead in construction and poultry processing.

OSHA's Training Institute, located near Chicago, trains thousands of inspectors and consultation personnel. To make better use of the facility's expertise OSHA established an outreach-training program. Individuals who complete a one-week trainer course are authorized to teach 10-hour and 30-hour courses in construction and general industry standards. During the past 3 years more than 600,000 students have received training through this program.

We also have 12 education centers located around the country that provide safety and health education to the private sector, companies and workers and personnel from other Federal agencies. And we will be announcing more education centers soon. Education and training is essential for success.

One area that has received our attention is protection of immigrant workers, particularly Spanish-speaking workers. Even as overall workplace fatalities in the U.S. have fallen in recent years, deaths among Hispanic workers have increased - up12% in 2000 and 9 percent in 2001. The increase occurred primarily in the services and agricultural industries on top of increases in the construction sector in past years. This is a very critical issue and we must address it. I assure you, I am - we are committed to reversing this deadly trend. We need our friends from Mexico to help us.

OSHA has taken a number of steps to reach out to immigrant workers. They include:

  • A toll-free help line that offers assistance in English and Spanish.

  • A Spanish version of the web page

  • Informational pamphlets published in Spanish

  • Public service announcements in Spanish that will be carried on radio and television.

  • Partnerships and working relationships with the Mexican consulate, the Hispanic Contractors of America, and other organizations with ties to Hispanic workers.

  • And we hope to work more closely with the Mexican Government to learn how we can more effectively reach-out to Mexican workers -- working in the United States.

  • We are also hiring more professionals (inspectors) who speak Spanish and other languages.

Partnerships and Voluntary Programs. Federal OSHA provides money to the states so that they can conduct on-site consultation for employers, particularly small business employers in hazardous industries. This service, which is without charge to employers, is similar to an inspection but provides no citations or penalties. Consultation helps companies and workers recognize the hazards in their workplaces and suggests methods of removing the dangers.

OSHA has forged 139 strategic partnerships with the private sector. They involve more than 6,200 companies and cover nearly 216,000 workers

For instance, several partnerships address workplaces where workers suffer musculoskeletal disorders; others focus on the construction industry. Some of the partnerships are nation-wide; others are restricted to a geographical area. In each case, OSHA is working with employers, unions, educational institutions or other organizations to ensure the safety and health of workers covered by the agreement.

Partnerships produce results. They add value. Several years ago OSHA formed a partnership with a company that owns nursing homes in Colorado. Following establishment of the partnership with these nursing homes workers compensation claims dropped from 115 to 5 in two years. The costs associated with these claims dropped from $232,000 to $1,500. Safety and health add value.

We have also created a new form of partnership called alliances.

Alliances focus government and private sector resources on one or more elements of safety and health such as training, or education or outreach. Our first alliance was with the Hispanic Contractors Association. That organization is helping OSHA distribute safety and health information in Spanish and identifying Spanish-speaking employers and employees who will benefit from OSHA's assistance. We are looking to other organizations as well to help us reach companies and workers, especially Hispanic workers.

A number of our local offices are even working with schools and vocational colleges to teach the importance of safety and health to younger people even before they enter the workforce.

Our oldest partnership program is known as the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which many of you are familiar with. This year VPP celebrates its 20th anniversary.

We are very proud of the 864 sites recognized by that program for their exemplary safety and health records. These companies not only go beyond OSHA's requirements; some of them also mentor other companies to help them become eligible for VPP. VPP companies typically have injury and illness rates that are ½ those of their industries.

The value of VPP -- this partnership is too great to keep it at 800 sites. Our new target is to eventually have 8, 000 VPP sites. We can save many more lives and thousands of injuries and illnesses.

The principles I have spoken about today -- promoting the added value of safety and health, strong, fair enforcement, partnerships, voluntary programs, training and outreach are universally applicable. They can be used in every nation and in all kinds of companies from small businesses to multi-national corporations.

I know that many of you are applying these principles in your daily work. These principles work. Our country now has the lowest occupational injury and illness rate since OSHA was created -- 6.1 cases per 100 workers. The rates have dropped for 8 years in a row.

Before concluding I would like to mention the role that OSHA played in the aftermath of the terrible events of September 11, 2001. This episode demonstrated to me that sometimes OSHA might be called upon to perform its duties in the face of the most difficult and even the most horrifying challenges.

In this situation OSHA rose to the occasion. I am very proud of the employees of this agency.

OSHA's office in Manhattan was destroyed in the attack yet the agency managed to provide continuous assistance to the rescuers and workers doing the clean-up. More than 1000 employees of the Department of Labor worked on the site. During nine months of rescue and cleanup at the World Trade center site OSHA distributed more than 130,000 respirators, handed out over 40,000 pieces of personal protective equipment, and took more than 6,000 bulk and air samples. We also monitored safety conditions around the clock to ensure problems were fixed before anyone was hurt.

I am most proud of the fact that there were no worker fatalities during the rescue and clean-up phases and that after nearly 3.7 million work hours at the site only 57 workers suffered injuries requiring lost workdays.

* * *

I want to thank the organizers of this 38th Congress. This is a great opportunity to learn and share ideas and approaches. I look forward today to hearing your experiences and sharing your success stories. One of the greatest benefits of NAFTA is that it allows us to draw upon the tremendous safety and health resources available on the North American continent and it challenges us to do more.

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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