On Behalf of US Industry
Joseph Van Houten, PhD, CSP
Johnson & Johnson
Fellow Delegates, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honored to offer these welcoming remarks on behalf of the US industry delegation. We are grateful to our European hosts for arranging this meeting and look forward to three days of fruitful dialogue on critical health and safety topics.
When we met in Boston in 2010, our spokesperson, Frank White, offered us a lesson in American baseball and spoke about "swinging for the fences," that is, to make transformational change in the way we approach health and safety in our respective countries. I'd like to expand his sports metaphor to include a contemporary reference. We are here in Brussels on the eve of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Similar to our Olympians, we have assembled a team that is best in class and have qualified in four events. Our competition is death, injury and illness and like any championship team we must collaborate, cooperate and act in a unified manner to win the match and ascend the podium. We are poised to set world records in this effort because success is essential for our constituents – the workers of the United States of America and the European Union.
Let me offer some thoughts on the game plan for each of our events.
Event number 1 is Nanotechnology, which offers great promise for innovative and exciting products – products that can be a catalyst for strong economic growth in our respective countries. As with many emerging technologies, safety and health risks are only partially characterized and require our collective support for ongoing research in this area. When we are successful, we will see the benefits of this technology flourish without adverse impact on workers, consumers or the environment.
Our second event is exposure controls for chemicals - an old and important favorite that is worthy of additional discussion. We need to continue to support efforts that improve our knowledge of the hazardous properties of chemicals and workplace levels that are safe. Our legal requirements need to migrate away from substance-by-substance regulation and toward approaches that require a holistic assessment of risk based on accurate and current toxicology data. This is the approach used by industry leaders in safety and health and is protective for chemical workers. One point that mystifies me is why law makers and the public seem satisfied with a regulatory status quo that appears to significantly under protect chemical workers. Could it be that we do a better job capturing and communicating data associated with injuries than we do information regarding occupational illness? This may be an opportunity for better collaboration among our US and EU counterparts.
Event number 3 is OSH in a Green Economy - an opportunity to assure health and safety while introducing products and services that offer economic and environmental advantages. Sustainable development requires simultaneous consideration of social, environmental and economic impact. As the Green Economy has emerged, there are some developers who have under estimated the health and safety impact of these environmental innovations. OSH in a Green Economy needs to develop approaches that assure "people, planet and prosperity" all receive equal consideration. Dr. Michaels summarized this very well in his first speech as Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health when he said: "Green jobs cannot be good jobs unless they are safe jobs." These words were true in 2009 and remain true today.
Our fourth and final event is the most challenging but is perhaps the most rewarding. Preventing catastrophic workplace accidents is probably the reason most of us do what we do. We want to see everyone go home safely to family and friends at the end of each workday. The rigor of process safety management is effective and offers a framework for preventing all catastrophes. This systematic approach should be applied as part of a comprehensive assessment of risk across an operation.
Associated with preventing catastrophes is the prevention of fatalities and serious injuries. For many of us who have dedicated our careers to safety and health, and who have watched injury rates decline through the years, the persistence of workplace fatalities is perplexing. It is now becoming increasingly evident that injury rates are not predictive of fatalities and serious injuries. We need a new and complementary set of predictive indicators to help identify where the next fatality will occur. We also need to extend our view beyond the factory floor to include a group of workers who are often ignored during discussions of fatality prevention – these are the workers who drive vehicles on company business. In the US, vehicle-related deaths account for nearly half of the workplace fatalities and more should be done to support these workers. One opportunity is for this conference to endorse the goals of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety – an effort to prevent 5 million deaths between now and 2020.
Before I close, I also want to acknowledge and support the Government-to-Government Special Session on OSH Statistics that will occur on Thursday. For those of us who work for multi-national corporations, we welcome international collaboration in this area as a means to improve benchmarking and tracking of progress toward improvement of health and safety for the global workforce. I look forward to hearing the report of your deliberations at Friday's close out session.
So here we are on the field, the match is about to begin and the referee is about to blow his whistle. We are excited, anxious and eager to contribute. Let's "go for the gold" on behalf of safety and health in the workplace.
Thank you and have a great meeting!