Statement of JORDAN BARAB, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, U.S. Senate, February 11, 2016:
Chairman Lankford, Ranking Member Heitkamp and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me here today. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), I am honored to testify before you about how the Department works with regulated entities and other partners to assure the health, safety and dignity of America's workers.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970, employers have the responsibility to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards and to comply with OSHA safety and health standards. This law created OSHA and provided the agency with a range of tools and strategies to ensure employers comply with these requirements and we work to apply them effectively and efficiently.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of OSHA, and, by any measure, this agency has been one of the true successes of government efforts to protect workers and promote the public welfare. Only 45 years ago most American workers did not enjoy the basic human right to be safe in their workplace. Instead, employees were given a choice: they could continue working under dangerous conditions, risking their lives, or they could move on to another job. Passage of the OSH Act laid the foundation for the great progress we have made in worker safety and health since those days.
Working together, OSHA, our state partners, employers, unions, trade organizations and health and safety professionals have made great strides in reducing the incidence of workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. In 1970, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job, an annual rate of 18 per 100,000 or about 38 workers every day. Today, with a workforce almost twice as large, that rate has fallen to 3.3 per 100,000, or about 13 workers killed every day according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Injuries and illnesses also are down dramatically — from 10.9 per 100 workers in private industry per year in 1972 to 3.2 per 100 workers in 2014.
While these advances represent great progress, 13 deaths a day is still 13 too many. In addition to workplace fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private and public sector employees experienced almost 4 million serious job related injuries and illnesses in 2014. Another estimated 50,000 Americans died from occupational diseases, resulting in a loss of 150 workers each day from hazardous working conditions. It is now widely recognized that these statistics, although alarmingly high, are an underestimate — that most occupational illnesses go uncounted and that the actual number of workers who are injured or sickened on the job annually is substantially higher. (1)
Workplace injuries and illnesses cause an enormous amount of physical, financial and emotional hardship for individual workers and their families. Combined with insufficient workers' compensation benefits, these injuries and illnesses cannot only cause physical pain and suffering but also loss of employment and wages, burdensome debt, inability to maintain a previous standard of living, loss of home ownership and even bankruptcy. At the same time, costs to employers of workplace injuries and illnesses are also substantial, including workers' compensation payments, decreased productivity, lower employee morale and the costs of replacing injured workers.
These harsh realities underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees as the law requires. That is why OSHA continues to work with employers, workers, community organizations, unions and others, with the goal of enabling all workers to go home safely at the end of every work day.