DOL's Sweatt: Strong enforcement a priority for OSHA
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt spoke at the Pennsylvania Governor's Safety and Health Conference on October 28, 2019:
Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. For 93 years, Pennsylvanians have come together at this conference to discuss workplace safety and health in your state. That is almost twice as long as OSHA has existed.
Worker safety has come a long way since your first conference, and since OSHA first opened its doors in 1971. Today's workplaces are much safer, healthier places to earn a living. However, as evidenced by the variety of workshop topics and discussions over these two days, there is a wide range of issues still left to tackle.
It is great to see so many of you here, engaged in this important process of improving working conditions for your employees, your neighbors, and yourself.
Our collective goal is for every Pennsylvania worker to have a safe, family sustaining career. Everyone in this room has a role to play in achieving that goal, and we all have to work together to get the job done. I am here to discuss the role OSHA can play; including the various tools the agency has available to help ensure that your workplaces are safe.
OSHA takes a balanced approach to address workplace safety and health.
Enforcement is a statutory requirement, and will always be a big part of OSHA's work. The agency has made strong, fair enforcement a priority. You can see that reflected in our enforcement activities. However, it is important to know that OSHA is much more than just enforcement.
For employers who understand their responsibilities and make every effort to comply with the law, OSHA works to provide compliance assistance – to give employers and workers the knowledge and tools they need to comply with their obligations and keep workers safe.
Employers who do not comply with the law will continue to see full and fair enforcement. The expectation is for everyone in OSHA to carry out their duties professionally, respectfully, and by the book.
Enforcement and compliance assistance are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are complimentary. The overriding principle is worker protection.
Pennsylvania Top Ten Citations
When it comes to worker protection, one of the best places to start is with the most prevalent issues. Each year OSHA releases the top ten most cited standards across the country, accounting for the latest data available. Today, I would like to share with you the top ten list for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The data used is preliminary, but it is unlikely to change much when the data is final.
The list for Pennsylvania contains most of the same frequent citations as the national list, with a few exceptions. Electrical is number 10 for Pennsylvania, while it falls outside of the top 10 nationally.
I would also like to point out that scaffolding is the second most cited standard nationally, while it comes in fifth on the list for Pennsylvania.
In both the national and Pennsylvania lists, four of the top ten citations are directly related to falls, which continue to be the leading cause of worker fatalities in the construction industry.
This is why OSHA has a campaign dedicated to preventing falls. In May, OSHA hosted the 6th annual National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls.
Thank you to everyone here who participated. Throughout the week, millions of workers on thousands of worksites across the world paused during their workday to discuss fall prevention.
In the six years since OSHA began doing stand-down events, nearly 10 million workers have been reached by our message that falls are preventable. Your continuing support of this this initiative is important.
An offshoot of the Falls Prevention campaign is the Focus Four campaign. This effort began right here in Pennsylvania to address the four leading causes of fatalities in the construction industry: falls, struck-by, electrocution, and caught-in/between. The campaign has since spread across the region and the country, even to Canada.
As part of the campaign, employers provide toolbox talks to their workers. OSHA compliance assistance specialists travel to worksites to discuss hazards during the toolbox talks.
These efforts have been successful in raising awareness of the recognition, evaluation, and control of these hazards. They have also helped create a more positive relationship between OSHA, employers, and workers involved in the campaign.
Establishing these types of positive relationships with the regulated community is an important part of OSHA's balanced approach. OSHA is not simply an enforcement agency; it is foremost a workplace safety agency. The best way to achieve improvements in workplace safety is by cultivating good working relationships with employers, workers, and other stakeholders.
OSHA Weighting System
OSHA has implemented a new approach to measuring its enforcement activities. The new OSHA Weighting System (OWS) will encourage the appropriate allocation of resources to support the agency's balanced approach of promoting safe and healthy workplaces.
OSHA will continue to weight inspections, but will do so based on other factors, including agency priorities and the impact of inspections, rather than simply on a time-weighted basis.
OWS incorporates the three major work elements performed by field staff: enforcement activity, essential enforcement support functions (such as severe injury reporting and complaint resolution), as well as compliance assistance efforts.
This new system will help OSHA focus enforcement activities on critical and strategic areas where the agency's efforts can have the most impact.
One of the main topics employers across the country have questions about are OSHA inspections. The agency understands that no employer looks forward to an OSHA inspection, but we believe that every employer should know what to expect, and not be afraid, if one does occur.
Based on great feedback from a video we created on the inspection process for the Ammonium Nitrate Regional Emphasis Program, the agency has developed a general inspection video to help all covered employers and workers better understand the OSHA inspection process. The new video is available on OSHA's website in both English and Spanish. I would like to share that video with you now.
OSHA hopes this video helps to demystify the inspection process and alleviate some employer concerns about OSHA inspections. Again, this video is available on the OSHA website. Please help us share it as widely as possible.
Now, I would like to highlight a few of the agency's major initiatives.
OSHA is focused on reducing the number of trenching-related injuries and fatalities. OSHA is using every tool in its kit – including traditional enforcement and outreach, as well as On-Site Consultation and other cooperative efforts to remove workers from hazards.
OSHA revised its National Emphasis Program on Trenching last year. The revised NEP covers inspections of trenching activities in both Federal and State Plan states, and includes a compliance assistance and outreach requirement. This includes providing compliance assistance material to excavation employers, permitting and other municipal organizations, industry associations, equipment rental organizations, water works supply companies and major or local plumbing companies.
The agency is also promoting general awareness about the seriousness of the hazards and the available means to address them. OSHA has updated the trenching quick card, printed new trenching posters, and designed a hard hat sticker around our message: Slope it, Shore it, Shield it. There are also trenching videos available for training and educational purposes.
OSHA has also partnered with the construction industry to support annual Trench Safety Stand-Downs over the past 4 years. OSHA's Pennsylvania offices have participated in numerous trench safety stand-downs sponsored by the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) and others.
I ask that you help spread the word that OSHA is emphasizing trenching projects in its enforcement targeting, and encourage those who hire contractors and anyone who sees trenching hazards to report unsafe conditions to OSHA.
Safe + Sound
OSHA's Safe + Sound Campaign promotes the benefits and use of effective safety and health programs. OSHA has a basic requirement to implement safety and health programs for the construction industry. Employers should consider best practices to establish safety and health programs that include management leadership, worker, and labor participation as well as a systematic and proactive approach to finding and fixing hazards that go above and beyond the minimum statutory requirements.
Each year, Safe + Sound week encourages employers and workers to host activities and events across the country to promote proactive safety and health programs.
This year, over 2,500 organizations from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 4 U.S. territories, and 25 countries participated.
Participants held safety trainings and meetings, celebrated achieving goals, recognized workers' contributions, opened dialogue, and challenged themselves to identify and correct hazards in their workplaces.
During the event, Safe + Sound Week reached an audience of over 17.5 million on social media. This included messages from partners, who helped to spread the word about Safe + Sound to their followers. Thank you to all those here who helped spread the message!
OSHA also provides regular messages throughout the year with access to free tools and resources that support the development of workplace safety and health programs. Over 55,000 participants are currently signed up for this listserv.
I encourage you to visit the Safe + Sound website to access these free tools and resources, sign up for the listserv, and stay engaged on this important campaign.
Suicide Prevention / Opioids
Next, I would like to discuss the issue of suicide prevention. Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, workplaces, and communities.
It is a complicated issue, because of the overlapping work and non-work factors involved, including a connection to the issue of opioid misuse.
The agency is looking at ways to work with other agencies and stakeholders to help shed light on this problem, and find ways to help prevent these terrible incidents from happening.
OSHA has created a new webpage with free and confidential resources to help employers and workers identify the warning signs, and know who and how to call for help.
Please look at the resources on the new webpage. OSHA would also be interested in hearing from you, if you have any suggestions for how the agency can amplify this message.
The agency is also concerned about the misuse of opioids, and its impact on workers. The opioid and substance misuse crisis has touched every part of American life, and the workplace is no exception.
The National Safety Council recently released an employer toolkit to help address the opioid crisis. The toolkit provides employers with needed tools to address the crisis in their workplaces and support workers who are in recovery.
OSHA is proud to be a partner with NSC in addressing this critical national issue. Please go online to review the toolkit, and share it with your colleagues.
One of the keys that OSHA emphasizes in all of its efforts is the importance of training. Training must be provided to workers who face hazards on the job. It's the law, and it's also good for every business. A highly trained workforce can minimize unnecessary costs and disruptions from an illness, injury, or fatality.
OSHA provides training assistance and resources through a variety of programs. Through these programs, the agency creates training materials, distributes training grants to nonprofit organizations, and provides training through authorized education centers.
The Outreach Training Program, often referred to as the 10- and 30-hour Outreach class, provides training to workers on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of workplace hazards. The program uses trainers authorized through the OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Centers.
It is important to note that this is a voluntary program. It is not a certification or a license, and is not designed to meet the training requirements contained in any OSHA standards. Employers are still responsible for providing additional training for their workers on specific hazards of their job as noted in many OSHA standards.
Although the program is voluntary, some municipalities and states have enacted laws mandating the training, including the city of Philadelphia. In addition, some employers, unions, and various other jurisdictions may require workers to have the Outreach Training Program class to work on job sites and to fulfill their own safety training goals. Each year, more than one million workers are trained through the Outreach Training Program.
OTI Education Centers
The OSHA Training Institute's Education Centers are a national network of training sites offering courses geared toward the private sector.
Ed Centers collaborate with their Regional and Area Offices to support emphasis programs through marketing, communication, and training efforts. Many Ed Centers even offer reduced or no cost training in support of OSHA campaigns.
OSHA awards grants to nonprofit organizations on a competitive basis through its Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. Grants are awarded to provide training and education programs for employers and employees on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces.
Last month, OSHA awarded approximately $10.5 million in Susan Harwood training grants to 79 nonprofit organizations nationwide.
This included a grant for the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety & Health to provide fall prevention training to 500 employers and workers in small residential and small commercial construction. The targeted audiences for this grant include youth, hard-to-reach, minority, limited English proficiency, and high-risk workers. Training will include information on ladders, scaffolds, and preventing falls from roofs. As you can see, these grants allow OSHA to support targeted, and often localized, training in support of the agency's initiatives and mission.
As I mentioned earlier, a key prong of OSHA's balanced approach to achieving its mission is through assisting employers and workers with understanding their obligations and rights.
Compliance assistance includes a wide variety of activities, including developing guidance documents, hosting or attending regional or local events, providing free on-site consultations to small businesses, and responding to stakeholder questions about requirements and available resources.
Each year OSHA assists around a quarter of a million individuals by phone (calling our 1-800 number) and thousands more through email requests for help. OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program conducts more than 26,000 free on-site visits each year to small and medium-sized business worksites.
Around 20 million users visit OSHA's webpage each year, and the agency's videos receive half a million views on YouTube.
All-in-all OSHA's compliance assistance efforts help increase understanding of OSHA programs and requirements, and assist employers in removing millions of workers from hazards.
Many of these activities are conducted by OSHA's regional and area offices. In FY 2019, OSHA's Pennsylvania offices conducted more than 550 compliance assistance activities across the state.
For instance, last month OSHA joined federal, state, and county partners to hold a free workshop on chemical safety, security, and transportation in Slippery Rock, PA. Workshop attendees learned about regulatory and enforcement programs, as well as available resources to keep workers safe during emergency events. These resources included best practices to assist their organizations with emergency planning and community right-to-know.
OSHA's Pennsylvania offices have also conducted numerous outreach activities related to silica in construction. For example, just last month OSHA collaborated with the Mid-Atlantic Construction Safety Council and a bricklayer association and union to hold a silica training session for approximately 100 attendees in the Philadelphia area.
The Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation Program has also developed a series of videos focusing on the top 25 areas identified during OSHA inspections. The videos can be used to supplement training that employers must provide to their employees.
These are just a few examples of the compliance assistance efforts in your state. I encourage everyone here, to go online to osha.gov or reach out to the OSHA area office near you to learn more about resources and opportunities available to help you.
OSHA also collaborates with employers, workers, and partners through the agency's Cooperative Programs. These programs are excellent ways for employers, employees, and associations to work with OSHA on meaningful safety and health initiatives.
Voluntary Protection Programs
The Voluntary Protection Program or VPP is a valuable asset for employers. VPP sites undergo intensive audits of the company's safety and health program. It is a collaboration between management, workers, and unions (where there is representation).
Companies participating in VPP have exceptional safety and health programs, and are exempt from programmed inspections. There are basic requirements for participation in VPP. One primary requirement is for all active sites to maintain injury and illness rates below the national industry average.
For example, the US Mint in Philadelphia was cited with several willful violations during inspections in the early 2000s. The Mint closed its doors for several weeks to fix the major hazards and took this as an opportunity to reevaluate its approach to safety and health. After correcting the hazards, the Mint made the commitment to make their employees' safety and health THE priority at the facility. The US Mint in Philadelphia was accepted into VPP in 2005, has continued its commitment to worker safety, and has been in the program ever since.
Employers who want help to meet their obligations can take advantage of OSHA's no-cost and confidential Consultation Program. This is aimed at small employers who may not have the same resources as their larger counterparts. It is important to note this service has a firewall between the enforcement-side of the agency.
Through this program, OSHA works with the employer to find and fix hazards, achieve compliance, and improve safety and health programs. In FY 2019 alone, PA OSHA Consultation conducted more than 600 total consultation visits, removing over 100,000 Pennsylvania workers from risk of hazards.
On-site consultations do not just help keep workers safe, companies that use the program also tend to save money.
For instance, Phoenix Sintered Metals, LLC, a family-owned company in Brockway, PA, requested assistance through the On-Site Consultation program. With the program's help, the company improved its safety and health programs and dropped its recordable injury rate to less than one-third the national industry average. As a result, the company reduced the costs of its workers' compensation claims by 97% in just three years. Phoenix Sintered Metals, LLC, is now a part of the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program.
SHARP recognizes small business employers who have used consultation services, and have a great safety and health program. Much like VPP, acceptance into SHARP recognizes businesses as a model for worksite safety and health. There are 57 active SHARP sites in Pennsylvania.
I cannot stress enough the value of the on-site consultation program, and encourage every small and medium-sized business in Pennsylvania to consider reaching out for assistance.
OSHA also makes use of another cooperative program, Strategic Partnerships, which allow the agency to partner with employers, workers, and other interested stakeholders.
This program is focused on improving safety and health in major corporations or government agencies, at large construction projects, and for entire industries. Participants establish specific goals, strategies, and performance measures to improve worker safety and health.
There are currently 60 Strategic Partnerships with more than 1,000 employers covering over 200,000 workers across the country. Since the program began in 1998, more than 2 million employees have been protected from safety and health hazards through a partnership.
To reach workers and employers that were not being reached through OSHA's other cooperative programs, the agency established the Alliance Program.
Through this program, OSHA and its Alliance partners work together to share information with workers and employers, educate workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities, and develop compliance assistance tools and resources.
Alliance agreements are not worksite-based – they generally focus on entire industries or specific hazards within industries.
There are currently 18 Alliances in Pennsylvania. These include three recently signed Alliances to promote safety in the elevator industry, to develop cross-training and share non-confidential trending data on injuries and illnesses with the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, and to develop training programs in Northeast Pennsylvania for students, adjudicated young adults, and workers with limited English proficiency in manufacturing training programs.
I encourage every employer interested in any of these cooperative programs to reach out to us for more information.
You may have some interest in a few recent or ongoing rulemakings, so allow me to provide some updates on those.
First, as you are probably aware, OSHA continues to update the beryllium rule by providing additional guidance materials, standard interpretations, and the opportunity to comment on regulatory text through notice and comment rulemaking.
OSHA is reviewing comments from the December 2018 proposed update for General Industry. The agency has also recently issued an updated proposal for construction and shipyards to tailor the rule for these sectors.
The proposal ensures consistency with the general industry standard, where appropriate, based on a 2017 final rule clarifying certain requirements with respect to materials containing only trace amounts of beryllium.
The proposed changes would maintain safety and health protections for workers, while facilitating compliance with the standards, and yielding some cost savings.
I encourage everyone here to review the proposal and submit comments through the Federal Register.
Respirator Fit Testing
OSHA recently issued a final rule that provides employers with two new fit testing protocols for ensuring that employees' respirators fit properly. These two new methods add to the four existing in Appendix A of OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard.
The rule does not require employers in general industries, shipyard employment, and construction to update or replace their current fit testing methods, and does not impose additional costs.
Earlier this year OSHA published a RFI on lock-out/tag-out related to computer-based controls and robotics. The agency is interested in considering the impact of modern machines on the workplace and how best to continue protect workers. OSHA is currently reviewing the public record.
The agency recently published best practices on Leading Indicators of Occupational Safety and Health. Leading indicators are proactive, preventive, and predictive measures that can be used to drive a good safety and health program.
OSHA particularly encourages small and medium sized businesses to review the agency's document on leading indicators, and to explore ways to implement this approach in your safety and health programs.
A stakeholder meeting is scheduled for November 7th on this topic. Registration for the meeting is open until Oct 30th.
Silica Table-1 RFI
OSHA also requested information and comments related to Table 1 of the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction. The agency is currently reviewing submitted comments, to determine any future actions.
Online Outreach Training RFI
OSHA has also issued a Request for Information to determine whether a new online training model should be adopted to address some issues the agency has identified with the current Online Outreach Training program.
These issues include inconsistent training quality, insufficient monitoring and oversight available to the agency, and public confusion regarding the OSHA-authorized Outreach Training Program.
I encourage everyone here to review the RFI and submit your comments or ideas.
Examining ways to improve the accessibility of information about available resources is a key project for OSHA. As new products are developed or updates of existing resources occurs, carefully considering the varied audiences, and how they can best access and use our materials, is a primary consideration.
This approach applies to all of the materials the agency is creating to include the web portal. Please let us know if there are materials you would like to see from OSHA (or perhaps existing materials in different formats or languages). Your input is welcome and appreciated. After all, these resources are created for you.
If you are not on the QuickTakes mailing list, you should consider it. We have more than 265,000 subscribers and continue to grow at a steady pace. This free newsletter provides the latest information about agency actions, events, new resources, training, and enforcement activities. You can sign-up on the OSHA website.
OSHA is active on social media with more than 17,500 Twitter followers. If you don't already, please follow our Twitter handle @OSHA_DOL, as well as the Department of Labor's accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn.
OSHA's drive to constantly re-examine and improve our efforts in reaching our audience, has led to the creation of some new outreach tools.
These include Did You Know (DYK) emails that go out to QuickTakes subscribers, and Tips of the Week, which are posted on the OSHA homepage and emailed to subscribers.
The DYK emails provide the agency an avenue to highlight available resources on a specific topic that is either part of a major initiative, or on a topic we do not often talk about.
Tips of the week allow OSHA to highlight solutions to specific hazards. The tips link back to resources, which provide more information about the topics. Users can find the tips on our homepage or they can sign up to receive them via email every week.
Another new outreach tool are OSHA Alerts. With Alerts, the agency is able to highlight issues in a timely way, and include all of OSHA's available resources on a topic in one short blast. OSHA has issued Alerts on topics such as flooding, trenches, forklifts, and heat safety.
All our efforts – be it rulemaking, enforcement, compliance assistance, or training – are not an end unto themselves; they are tools to accomplish our mission, and our mission is worker safety and health.
This is a mission OSHA shares with everyone in attendance today. Worker lives and livelihoods depend on our ability to jointly prevent injuries and illnesses.
Again, I ask that you please continue working with the OSHA regional and area offices in your state and let us know of anything we can do to assist you. Please do not hesitate to reach out for compliance assistance and training help, and encourage others to do so as well.
Together, we can assure that every Pennsylvanian worker has the opportunity to go home safe and healthy at the end of each shift.