John L. Henshaw
3 rd EU/US Joint Conference on
Occupational Health and Safety
October 15, 2003
Kalimera. Guten Morgen. Bonjour. Good morning, Mr. Jansen, Mr. Korniotis, Mr. Baveas, Mr.Ginalas, and distinguished heads of delegations and representatives of government, labor and industry from the European Union and the United States. I'm delighted to join all of you in beautiful Lemnos for the third EU/US Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health.
I bring you personal greetings from U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. The Secretary has asked me to extend to each of you her best wishes for a very successful conference.
I want to thank Mr. Biosca, Mr. Cammarota and their staff for their hard work to make this conference possible. We are all grateful for your efforts to make our meeting run smoothly and to enable us to work effectively together.
Within the context of the New Transatlantic Agenda, the EU and the U.S. have established a very close and productive relationship over the last several years. In May 1996, the EU Commissioner for Social Affairs and the U.S. Secretary of Labor signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting up a Working Group on Employment and Labor Related Issues.
Since that MOU was signed, the Working Group has sponsored a number of workshops and conferences involving participants drawn from governments, trade union organizations, employer organizations and businesses, academia and other interested private sector institutions from both sides of the Atlantic.
These meetings have provided valuable opportunities for exchanges of ideas and good practices in the area of occupational safety and health. They have enabled those involved in forming and implementing workplace policies in both the U.S. and the EU to better focus their efforts on behalf of working men and women on both continents.
Today, here on the beautiful island of Lemnos, we have again come together to exchange ideas that will help each of us improve safety and health for workers in our countries. We are building on the strong foundations laid in Luxembourg in 1998 and San Francisco in 2000.
This conference in Lemnos is an opportunity to deepen and broaden our cooperation. I am looking forward to hearing more about how EU countries address the four issues on our agenda. And I trust we have some helpful ideas to share as well.
Safety and Health Add Value
In the U.S. when I speak to groups of employers and workers, my overall message is very simple: Safety and health add value . To your business. To your workplace. To your life.
We want every employer and employee in our country to build a safety culture at their workplace. The first step is recognizing the value of a safe, healthful work environment.
The value for business is clear: focusing on safety and health is the right thing to do . It saves money and adds value to the organization. We estimate that every $1 invested in safety and health returns $4 in savings.
Safety and health also add value to the workplace . Benefits include greater productivity, higher quality, increased morale and reduced turnover .
Clearly, safety and health add value to life . For workers, getting hurt or sick is not just physically painful. It can reduce income, increase stress and hinder a full family life.
U.S. Strategies and Goals
Once we make the case for the value of safety and health, we are ready to pursue a wide variety of strategies to achieve our goals. In the U.S. our triple bottom line is fewer injuries, illnesses and deaths on the job. We have set challenging targets for the next five years:
Reduce rate of fatalities by 15%
Reduce rate of injuries/illnesses by 20%
Our plan, as the U.S. government safety and health authority for most private sector businesses, is to take a balanced approach to achieve these goals. We'll be focusing on performance measures, outcomes, and leading and trailing measures to determine our impact.
I'm eager to learn more about the performance measures EU countries use and your success in measuring the effectiveness of your safety and health efforts.
One strategy we use is direct interventions—both inspections and voluntary consultations. We'll focus these efforts particularly on high hazard workplaces and hard-to-reach workers.
We have established realistic goals and timetables for the safety and health standards we are developing. One of the issues that concerns us is how to work with labor and industry to update exposure limits for numerous chemicals.
We are also concerned about communicating hazards to workers. And we welcome the opportunity to discuss the Globally Harmonized System for hazard communication with our partners in the EU.
Effective standards and direct intervention will always be necessary to ensure workplace safety and health. But lasting solutions will come because employers, workers, and others embrace a safety and health culture in the workplace.
Compliance assistance and cooperative programs are the best vehicles for promoting a safety and health culture. We are eager to hear about the programs that you are finding successful in the EU.
In the U.S., we have programs to recognize exemplary employers —with nearly 1,700 participating. In addition, OSHA recently announced new pilot programs for those ready to commit to excellence but who need help to get there. We also work with trade associations and unions in more than 200 partnerships that focus on specific issues or industries . And we have nearly 100 new alliances that emphasize education and outreach .
Cooperative approaches are a good way to address some emerging safety and health issues. Working in cooperation with employers and workers also makes sense for dealing with other problems that we have not traditionally considered as part of workplace safety—like homeland security, motor vehicle safety and workplace violence .
Hearing more about the efforts of EU countries to deal with stress and violence in the workplace will be especially useful to us.
Another key component of our strategy is outreach . This includes both training and informational materials.
We have an extensive outreach effort through our publications and our website, which hosts more than 35 million visitors each year . We have special webpages for more than 100 safety and health topics . Our website includes interactive software to assist employers and workers on topics from asbestos to baggage handling to machine guarding to wood dust.
Safety and health training is also important to us—and we have our own training program that also provides some classes to employers and employees. Plus there are 35 sites across the U.S. licensed by OSHA to offer our safety and health classes.
The U.S. strategy for workplace safety and health is a balanced approach that emphasizes working with employers and employees to achieve our mutual goals. We believe this is the best way to move forward toward our goal of zero injuries, illnesses and deaths on the job.
Our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” That's what we intend to do—focus on the ultimate goal—the stars—but move forward step by step to do it. Today marks the continuation of our joint effort.
We appreciate the opportunity to gather with our European partners to share plans and learn about what has worked for you. We have established relationships as colleagues—I look forward to our moving beyond that to become friends.
In closing, Secretary Chao has asked me to let you know that she and the Department of Labor hope to build an even closer relationship with the EU in the years ahead.
I trust we will have a productive meeting with free-flowing dialogue and cooperation that will result in tangible results for workers in every country represented here today. I'm looking forward to it!