WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 30, 2009
I would like to begin by thanking our distinguished panels of witnesses for appearing today. We appreciate that they have taken time out of their busy schedules to share their expertise and experiences with us.
We meet today to examine OSHA’s efforts on workplace safety.
In particular, we are looking at one policy initiative, the Enhanced Enforcement Program. I look forward to hearing both from the Inspector General and OSHA itself on their views about whether this program should be continued, modified, expanded, or eliminated.
But speaking more broadly, as we examine OSHA’s efforts with respect to workplace safety, we must ask ourselves some questions: How do we evaluate whether our workplace safety laws are effective? Is it the number of citations issued? The amounts of fines collected by regulators? The number of lawsuits filed?
The best way to evaluate the effectiveness of our workplace health and safety laws is to examine the objective evidence – the numbers. They show whether we are making progress in reducing workplace illness and injury. And when we look at those numbers, the trends are encouraging.
Earlier this week, we heard at a similar hearing on workplace safety that when OSHA works cooperatively with businesses, particularly small ones, there has been significant, measurable progress.
For example, in 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of deaths on the job fell to less than four for every 100,000 workers – the lowest rate on record. The Bureau also says that in 2007, non-fatal injuries and illnesses were down by 4 percent – or 122 cases for every 10,000 workers.
Figures from OSHA tell the same story. These numbers show that since 2001, workplace deaths have declined 14 percent. Meanwhile, injuries and illness rates have dropped 21 percent.
I am not suggesting that there is an “acceptable” level of workplace illness or injury.
But it is important, as we evaluate the effectiveness of our laws, that we do so with the goal of improving those that are working, rather than reversing course for politics or an ideological agenda. I hope that as we move forward in assessing our workplace safety regime that we keep that principle in mind.
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