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DOL boss Solis in the lion's den defends OSHA (2/18)

February 18, 2011
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On Wednesday, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on the Labor Department’s policies and priorities. Here’s what she had to say in defense of OSHA:

“Another goal that I hope we all agree on is to ensure that every job in America is a safe job. Even in a recession, no worker should have to risk his or her life to bring home a paycheck. Our worker safety and health agencies — OSHA and MSHA — are on the front lines protecting workers from workplace hazards. Even though we have made incredible progress in protecting workers on the job since these two agencies were established decades ago, it is still wholly unacceptable that nearly 4,400 workers died last year on the job and over 3 million were seriously injured.

“One of my top priorities for OSHA in the coming year is to continue its outreach to vulnerable workers, such as young workers, minorities, older workers, and workers with low literacy skills who work in low-wage and high-risk industries with little or no access to information and resources on preventing injuries and illnesses. When I came before the Committee last year, I shared with you our plans for a National Action Summit for Latino Workers Health and Safety in Houston. I am happy to report that we held the summit last April in Houston and it was a remarkable success. We welcomed representatives of business, labor, faith-based and community organizations. OSHA is continuing its extraordinary outreach efforts this year.

“OSHA’s work on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill response in the Gulf states was a great example of this broad-based outreach effort in action. During the peak of the operations, more than 47,000 men and women were involved in responding to and cleaning up the oil spill each day. This included more than 42,000 response and cleanup workers employed by BP and its contractors, 1,600 members of the National Guard, and more than 2,400 federal employees. Many workers faced potential exposure to weathered oil, oil byproducts, dispersants, cleaning products, and other chemicals used in the cleanup process. Depending on their assignments, these workers also faced potential hazards from extreme heat, slips, falls, material handling, electrical hazards, and more. OSHA initiated outreach to scores of community organizations representing a wide range of workers and to employers providing the clean up services. OSHA distributed over 50,000 health and safety publications in three languages to workers in the Gulf. In addition, OSHA worked closely with employers, including BP, to ensure that workers had the appropriate protective equipment, adequate training, and information about heat stress in particular. The result was a remarkably safe experience for the workers participating in the clean-up effort.

“Of special note, when I came before you last year, I reported on the largest fine in the history of OSHA levied on BP. I have an important update on that case. Since OSHA issued the BP fine — which it issued only after it found that the company had not fulfilled its promise to abate hazardous conditions after a horrendous and preventable accident at its Texas City Refinery that killed 15 workers — OSHA has been working closely with BP to reform its safety practices at the refinery. As part of the settlement of a large portion of the BP fines, OSHA and BP agreed on specific steps that BP would take by March of 2012 to address the safety hazards at its facility and reform its safety practices. In addition, the settlement allows OSHA to monitor BP’s compliance to see that it eliminates the types of conditions that caused the disaster. I consider this agreement a model of how OSHA can work with business to transform the culture of safety for the benefit of all involved

“Another way OSHA is working with business to reform the culture of safety is through its Alliance and compliance assistance programs. As many of you probably already know, the President’s budget for 2012 requests continued funding for the Voluntary Protection Program — a welcome development in the business community. OSHA will also continue to fully support its On-site Consultation Program. I hope you have all heard from small businesses in your districts that have benefited from this program. In 2010, more than 26,000 small and medium-sized businesses that employ over 1.5 million workers received on-site assistance from OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program free of charge.

“These cooperative programs and outreach efforts are providing the Agency with information on safety and health practices and improve our ability to communicate with industry and hard-to-reach workers. As a result, OSHA is able to operate more effectively and responsively.

“In addition to the comprehensive economic feasibility reviews we conduct, OSHA has taken several steps in recent weeks to enhance our dialogue with small business about the impact of OSHA regulations. For example, in response to the concerns raised by the small business community to OSHA’s proposal to reinstate an additional step for recording musculoskeletal disorders on the OSHA injury logs, OSHA temporarily withdrew the proposal from Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review, and it is now working with the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy to meet with small business owners and other stakeholders to discuss their concerns. OSHA’s focus — protecting workers on the job — will never change, but we are open to talking to all who have good ideas about how to get there.

“While we work with the business community on minimizing the regulatory burden, I want you all to know that OSHA will continue to aggressively enforce our safety and health laws against those employers who refuse to play by the rules and who put profits above their workers’ lives. Often, strong enforcement is the only option to get the attention of recalcitrant employers. Moreover, strong enforcement protects business by creating a fair market for them to compete in. The vast majority of employers in our nation care deeply for their employees and spend their hard-earned revenue on running a safe workplace. We cannot sit by while they are forced to compete with employers who unlawfully cut corners on safety.

“OSHA took action when workers in Pennsylvania were put at risk while working for CA Franc Construction in Washington, PA — a roofing contractor who refused to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect its workers. CA Franc repeatedly refused to allow workers to use fall protection when they worked on steeply pitched roofs. In 2010, employee Carl Beck fell to his death. He was 29 years old and left behind two children. It must have caused Mr. Beck’s family endless anguish and grief to know that fall protection equipment was available on the roof with Mr. Beck, but the owner of CA Franc would not let him use it. OSHA issued citations to CA Franc for its egregious violation, and the owner pled guilty to a criminal charge related to Mr. Beck’s death. You can be sure that going forward, OSHA will continue to protect your constituents from these kinds of hazards, while working with employers in your districts who want to play by the rules.”

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