OF SAFETY ENGINEERS
1800 East Oakton Street
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
VIA E-MAIL: email@example.com
Dear Mr. Cullen:
The American Society of Safety Engineers and its 30,000 member safety, health and environmental professionals applaud the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for taking steps to guarantee increased consideration of worker and work site safety in NASA's contracting process with outside firms, as indicated in the Agency's December 13, 2001 Proposed Rule (66 FR 64391)
Founded in 1911, ASSE is the world's oldest, largest and most diverse society of safety professionals. NASA and ASSE have long enjoyed a strong, cooperative professional relationship. The goals of this Proposed Rule match ASSE's mission of protecting people, property and the environment. In fact, many of our members have specific interest and experience in contractor safety management programs.
We must note, however, that ASSE can comment only on the importance that NASA is placing on occupational safety and health in its contracting process. As a general rule, ASSE does not comment on award fees, penalties, or contract structure. Such issues are beyond our purview as a professional society.
The proposed changes will have a positive impact on safety in NASA projects by removing the dollar threshold from the NASA Safety and Health clause in contracts involving construction or hazardous end items or operations, currently set at $1 million; requiring the use of a Safety and Health clause and submission of a Safety and Health Plan when contract performance is on a government facility or when assessed risk warrants inclusion; and strengthening the conditions that must be met for excluding the Safety and Health clause from contracts. These measures will help reduce injuries and possible deaths on NASA work sites.
While the safety of workers will always be the most important consideration, the best possible safety measures on work sites also translates into increased financial savings. Accompanying this comment is a recent article published in ASSE's Management Practice Specialty Newsletter The Compass. The article, which supplements this comment, outlines a variety of considerations that should be taken into account when assessing the typically hidden value of safety and health programs. Increasingly, employers in both the private and public sectors are recognizing that value, as indicated by NASA's proposed rule. That awareness needs to be supported and encouraged by the safety profession, which this comment hopefully succeeds at accomplishing.
As always, ASSE and our members stand ready to assist NASA in any way that we can to help in the implementation of the increased safety guarantees reflected in this Proposed Rule.
By Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP
Do safety and health management programs improve a company's
bottom line? The answer is a resounding YES, although benefits may be
somewhat hard to quantify. But in addition to outright savings on worker's
compensation benefit claims, civil liability damages, and litigation expenses,
having a solid safety and health management program with top-down commitment
will improve productivity and employee morale. It can even make the difference
between winning and losing bids and government contracts.
The Hidden Costs of Failed Safety and Health Systems
Anyone who has had the misfortune of witnessing or handling the aftermath of a serious or fatal on-the-job injury knows that, without question, the costs go far beyond those that appear in the company's ledger book. In the manufacturing industry, employees and contractors may suffer job-related amputations, burns, cumulative trauma disorders, crushing injuries, and health conditions including cancer, brain damage, neurological problems and lung disorders. The toll that such injuries - even where non-fatal - take on a worker and his or her family is indescribable.
For those who survive, or who work with the accident or illness victim, the costs continue with psychological stress that may require years of counseling. Many times, co-workers who witness a serious event find themselves unable to return to the worksite at all, which presents additional costs to the company through the abrupt loss of skilled workers. A plant with a singularly bad reputation for safety and health may find itself unable to attract workers at all or may have to pay wages well above market value to do so. These are just a few of the "hidden" costs of a poor safety and health program.
Moreover, as more information concerning a company's OSHA and MSHA compliance and injury/illness experience becomes publicly available over the Internet and from the federal agencies through FOIA requests, foes of industrial growth may use this data to defeat permit applications or zoning change requests. Part of being a "good corporate citizen" - rather than a company that no one wants in their backyard - is offering a safe and healthful work environment to the local residents.
Companies may also "internalize" costs associated with workplace injuries or illnesses to the detriment of their safety and health program management. If some other organization (such as worker's compensation, social security, welfare or other insurance) pays the costs, corporate management may have a disincentive to control hazards. This is "penny wise and pound foolish."
When insurance pays for the immediate costs of employee injuries, ultimately we all pay - either in the form of higher premiums, inability to obtain insurance completely, or passed-through costs to the consumer. Conversely, when there are fewer accidents, society saves as a whole. Fewer hospitals, medical professionals and rehabilitation facilities will be needed, and employee productive capacity will not be reduced as a result of occupational injury, disease and death.
Why Do Safety Programs Break Down?
As we all know from the best-selling book, sometimes bad things happen to good people. I do not believe for a minute that corporate executives set out to kill and maim workers, and it is very frustrating to see companies portrayed as such villains by the press when they come under federal regulatory agency attack. Rather than malevolence, I believe that the key factor blocking management acceptance of safety and health program development is ignorance. Too often, those in authority fail to realize that:
information to prevent inadvertent exposure to dangerous equipment, conditions or substances.
How To Convince Management That "Safety Pays"
In recent years, encouraging "top down" safety
and health program management has become a priority for federal and state
agencies involved with safety regulation and enforcement. A survey of
employers indicates that the Top Ten motivations for taking safety actions
The original OSHA effort to encourage use of safety and health management programs was the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) initiative, which was established in 1982, was restructured in 1996 and is still in effect. The VPP emphasizes the importance of worksite safety and health programs in meeting the goals of the OSH Act, and provides official recognition of excellent safety and health programs, assistance to employers in their efforts, and the benefits of a cooperative approach to resolve potential safety and health problems. Recognition in the VPP requires rigorous attention to workplace safety by all personnel. Sites are approved based on their written safety and health program and their overall performance in meeting the standards set by the program. The VPP is comprised of program elements that have been demonstrated to reduce the incidence and severity of workplace injuries and illnesses.
VPP participation is strictly voluntary and OSHA keeps application information confidential. Participating employers must still comply with OSHA standards, but they are exempt from programmed OSHA inspections (although not from those prompted by employee complaints or triggered by fatalities, catastrophes or significant leaks and spills). More information on the VPP is available on OSHA's website (www.osha.gov) or through the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants Association (703-761-1146).
OSHA recently unveiled its "e-CAT" initiative, which pushes implementation of a safety culture at every level of an organization. The multi-faceted program has four components: (1) Management System and Safety/Health Integration; (2) Safety and Health Checkups; (3) Creating Change; and (4) Safety and Health Payoffs.
OSHA's e-CAT program consists of electronic Compliance Assistance Tools ("CATs") that provide guidance information for employers to develop a comprehensive safety and health program. Such programs are required by some states, although there is currently no such federal OSHA requirement.
OSHA's safety and health program management rule is under development, and its future will depend on the regulatory priorities of the new Bush Administration. The draft rule, released in October 1998, would have covered all general industry employers and applied to hazards covered by the General Duty Clause and existing OSHA standards. The proposal set forth the following core elements:
Existing programs would be grandfathered as long as they satisfied the basic obligation for each core element and the employer could demonstrate the effectiveness of its program. The rule would also require employers at multi-employer worksites to provide information about their hazards, controls, safety and health rules and emergency procedures to all workers.
Finally, OSHA has the "SHARP" program (Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program), which provides incentives and support to develop, implement and improve effective safety and health programs. Participating employers may be exempted from OSHA programmed inspections for a period of one year. All consultation and visits are conducted at employer request. Typical participants are smaller high-hazard businesses (e.g., with fewer than 250 employees) that do not have serious safety and health problems. Participants undergo a comprehensive site visit and agree to correct all identified safety and health hazards. SHARP is available in all 29 federal enforcement states.
Even where not mandated by law, safety and health management programs are critical to the safety and health performance of an industrial employer. Companies that are truly committed to safety management should consider participation in the VPP or the other consultation and professional development programs offered by OSHA or through professional safety organizations such as the American Society of Safety Engineers
At the state level, Oklahoma last year was lauded for its "Safety Pays" program, which offers employers assistance in developing management programs that identify and eliminate workplace hazards and ensure compliance with OSHA regulations. Nine employers were among those receiving the state's "Awards of Excellence" and it was noted that the employers had zero lost-time accidents and had reduced worker's compensation insurance costs from 47 to 97 percent.
Similar savings were noted in Alberta, Canada, where the Worker's Compensation Board announced last year that over $2 million in premium refunds would be distributed to more than 400 employers who registered in the "Partners in Injury Reduction" (PIR) program (the preceding year, 21 companies earned a total of $1.5 million in premium refunds). Other PIR program benefits included lower worker's comp premiums, increased worker productivity and minimized accident costs. The average lost-time claim rate at PIR participant worksites dropped more than 20 percent.
Private Sector Initiatives
At the private sector level, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) instituted the "Quest for the Best in Safety and Health" program in 1993 to help its members identify strategies for continuous improvements in safety and health. Approximately 50 companies participated and had impressive results. At one company, Springs Industries, 45 percent of its plants worked 1 million manhours or more without a single lost-time accident - and some exceeded 10 million manhours. What was the secret of their success? The following elements were responsible for a 25 percent decrease in overall injuries in the program's first year:
Workplace injuries and illnesses are costly in financial
and human terms. More than $40 billion are paid each year by employers
and their insurers in worker's
Ultimately, company executives must recognize that they have a duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace to those who work for the company or visit the worksite. It is unethical to risk someone's life and health in order to save money. A sound safety and health management program can help companies fulfill their moral obligation.
The Economics of Safety
* bake and sell 235,000 donuts
* deliver 20 truckloads of concrete
Yet only 30 percent of American workplaces currently have even a basic safety and health management program!!!!
Examples of Savings Attributable To Safety Programs
Adele Abrams is a professional member of the Society
and member of the Mining and Construction practice specialties. She writes
a regular column on mining legislation and regulations for Inside Global
Mining, the Mining Practice Specialty newsletter, and is very active with
the ASSE Governmental Affairs Committee. Her law offices are in Beltsville,
Click here to go back to the ASSE Federal Statements and Testimony page.