|NOTE: Assistant Secretary of Labor Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. was unable to attend the NATE conference in Tennessee due to airport closings throughout the Northeast. His presentation was provided during a teleconference to the near capacity gathering. Impromptu comments were added by Assistant Secretary Foulke to his prepared remarks. He stated that he would be attending next year's conference in Orlando, FL.
Remarks prepared for
Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.
Assistant Secretary of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
National Association of Tower Erectors
Annual Conference and Exposition
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Thank-you, Patrick [Patrick Howey, NATE Executive Director] for that generous introduction, and thank-you to everyone here for welcoming me to your conference here in Nashville.
Almost a year ago, I answered the President's call and came to OSHA to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Since then, I have spoken to representatives of thousands of businesses.
As the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, I am making it my personal mission to reach out and touch the hearts of employers everywhere, to move them to do the right thing and protect their employees.
I know, it sounds corny. "Ed Foulke wants to run around and touch people's hearts" is not exactly the traditional image for the government, is it? But I am talking about persuasion here, and peoples' lives are at stake.
My message is simple: To end fatalities, injuries and illnesses on the job, nothing is more effective than prevention.
This concept was instilled in me early in my career, long before I came to OSHA. In my first job out of law school, I was sent to a construction site to conduct employment training. An employee died on the site that morning, and it changed me forever. I knew from that moment on that my life's mission would be dedicated to safety and health.
I recognize that the vast majority of you in this room, as business owners and company executives, want to protect your employees; however, sometimes you need help achieving that goal. That is why OSHA extends a helping hand through our wide range of tools and services. We want to see employers and employees succeed while staying safe on the job.
On the other hand, there are employers out there who think that paying OSHA fines is "just part of the cost of doing business." Let me tell you: I am not going to put up with that attitude and I have let it be known throughout the agency that this will not be tolerated! OSHA tries to be helpful to businesses, but when we find employers who fail to uphold their employee safety and health responsibilities, we deal with them strongly.
Believe me: We would prefer to help a business prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities, rather than answer a single call about a workplace tragedy.
Here is an analogy anyone can relate to: When you see a police officer on a street corner, you are not afraid of him. You might even go up and ask for directions and you'll be grateful for the advice. However, you are also aware that if you run a red light, that same friendly, helpful police officer will issue you a ticket that could result in your paying a hefty fine for breaking the law. This is how I want all employers to think of OSHA.
I am aware that many businesses have not heard the message that OSHA's way of operating has changed in recent years. The old image of the "OSHA Cowboy" has been replaced by a "new OSHA" that, while still maintaining our enforcement activities, now offers education and cooperative program components to our range of services.
In October 2006 I called together OSHA's managers from every local and regional office to attend a major Leadership Conference - the first in 15 years - where we gathered to look at OSHA's past, present and future.
One of our goals is to make sure that no employer is afraid to come to OSHA for help and advice. We should all be on the same side of the law, working toward the same goal: Assuring the safety and health of employees.
I am pleased to say that - in not only words but in deeds - the National Association of Tower Erectors has shown that it has heeded this message.
I wanted to speak to you today because I am deeply impressed and grateful for the commitment and progress that NATE has demonstrated on improving the industry record for workplace safety and health.
PARTNERS IN PREVENTION
NATE and OSHA have had a significant history. It began back in 1996 when OSHA established the multi-agency "tower task force," and our relationship has progressed for a decade.
What began, frankly, as a tentative relationship - with each side primarily concerned about its own agenda - has transformed into a cooperative partnership where both sides are focused on eliminating on-the-job illnesses, injuries and fatalities; enhancing education and outreach efforts; and providing avenues for continued improvement in the industry.
Together, we have developed industry-specific training courses - the OSHA. 500, 30, and 10-hour courses - for tower erection.
We worked together to create and, later, improve the tower directive [cpl2-1.36)] to allow tower erectors to safely "ride the hoist line" for tower access.
We established focused inspection and self-audit checklists.
We formed within OSHA's Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) a tower workgroup to provide OSHA with the industry's perspective on standards development.
We worked together to issue a letter to major owners, carriers and general contractors, asking qualified contractors to adopt 100 percent fall protection at all worksites.
Finally, in our Cleveland area office we have a recognized tower expert, Jocko Vermillion, who has worked closely with NATE to help your industry establish and meet your workplace safety and health goals.
In December 2001, OSHA's Region V office and NATE began a partnership that we believe has led to significant improvements for the industry:
Nearly 700 industry people -- mostly supervisors - have taken the OSHA 30-hour course, and at least 75 supervisors have been trained in our Training Institute's 500 course.
Nearly 1,600 tower hands have received formal training in the OSHA 10-hour course
Our partners received on average 51 percent fewer inspections and fewer citations, and were twice as likely to see focused inspections rather than comprehensive inspections, and with higher in-compliance rates than non-partners due to their voluntary compliance.
Partnering companies conducted nearly 1,800 self-site audits, with only 17 rated below average and all hazards eliminated.
Also - and here we see the impact of workplace safety and health on a company's bottom line - the insurance rate of NATE partners averaged 15 percent below non-partnering companies.
In November 2006, it was my pleasure to sign a new, national partnership with NATE. I was impressed by the Association's commitment particularly by the presence of the entire board of directors in my office.
This is an exceptional partnership with incentives and benefits for all involved. It is also distinguished by the fact that it is a national partnership which is also open to the State Plan States. For this reason, we will be encouraging participation by State Plan staff. We have already worked closely with some of them, such as in Region V and North Carolina, which has its own tower standard.
I am delighted that the OSHA-NATE partnership is also open to owners and carriers who, in many cases, control workplace safety and health conditions through the contracts. They, too, will be recognized as an OSHA partner.
However, I doubt that most of our partners sign on for recognition or the other incentives. I believe they know, deep down, that this is the right thing to do. I believe they recognize the lasting, life-saving value of operating a comprehensive, effective safety and health management system.
The workshop that follows my comments this morning will present a more in-depth discussion of our partnership as well as a detailed explanation of the process for becoming a safety and health partner.
Please allow me to remind everyone to stop by the OSHA booth in the exhibit hall. I invite you to ask questions, learn what you can, and take materials home to read and share with others in your workplaces. Our exhibit booth is there for you, so please take advantage of the opportunity.
To ensure that we make the best use of our partnership and maximize our progress, we have assembled a team comprised of both NATE and OSHA professionals.
For an industry with relatively small employment numbers, the tower industry has suffered high fatality rates, and 2006 was a particularly rough year with 18 fatalities. Because even one fatality is one too many, we are determined through our partnership to work together effectively to eliminate more of these tragedies.
Through our partnership, more and more employers and employees are coming to understand how OSHA adds value... to business, work and life.
I appreciate your kind attention to my remarks this morning, and I salute you for your commitment to ensuring the safety & health of employees in your industry.