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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
OSHA Latino Safety Conference
Houston, TX
April 14, 2010

Good afternoon... buenas tardes.

Thank you, Dolores, for that warm introduction.

I want to thank my friend Dolores for her tirelessness and courage in fighting for workers rights — especially among the most vulnerable in our country — the farmworkers.

I also want to thank and acknowledge my Assistant Secretary for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels. I know that you are the right person to steer OSHA back on course emphasizing the protection of workers.

I am so pleased to be here. This is the first such conference focusing on Latino worker safety... change certainly has come.

The staff at OSHA has done a stellar job of putting this summit together and I want to thank them for their hard work. Specifically, I want to recognize Deborah Berkowitz who spearheaded this vision I had which began a year ago. Thank you, Deborah.

I also want to thank all of our guest speakers who are joining us over the course of this summit.

And lastly, I want to thank all of the workers who have shared their stories and all of you for being here for this important conference.

Many of you are on the frontlines of worker protections. You are the DOL's eyes and ears. It is vital that we work together to ensure workers across the country are safe.

I'm so sad to say that the last few weeks have been very difficult ones for workers across the country.

First, six died at the Tesoro Anacortes refinery explosion in Washington, followed by the terrible mine tragedy in West Virginia where we lost 29 brave souls.

This past week I spent time with these mineworkers' families and with the rescuers. Each one of these miners was a person with a family, working hard just trying to put food on the table. They trusted that if they worked hard and did a good job that their employer would do everything necessary to maintain the highest safety standards so they could go home safely to their families.

Please join me in a moment of silence in remembrance of our fallen brothers.

Thank you.

These senseless deaths must stop.

And of course we know that its not just mineworkers that need protection — it's housekeepers, carwash workers, meatpacking workers, construction workers, farmworkers — in other words, all workers.

Every day in this country, more than 14 workers lose their lives in preventable workplace accidents — close to 100 every week.

The Latino community loses 14 workers every week.

Workplace safety enforcement and oversight must be stepped up — and I will do everything in my power to ensure that it happens.

My vision for the Department of Labor is to provide good jobs for everyone — everyone, from business offices to field and construction workers. Good jobs are safe jobs.

Employers, who have the ultimate responsibility for safety, must step up — and I applaud all of you who do.

But evidence shows that too many employers cut corners and place their workers at risk.

Workers in these companies need OSHA to do its job, and do it well.

It is my mission to use the tools of government to make sure that happens. We will identify the challenges and provide the solutions. However, OSHA only has about 1,000 inspectors. States running their own state plans have about the same number.

That means it would take more than 130 years to inspect every single one of the 8 million workplaces in this country just once.

Clearly OSHA cannot do it alone; even if our budget were doubled or tripled.

So we have to leverage our resources. How? Through worker education and training — ensuring workers have a voice — and by providing the necessary tools to help businesses know and understand safety standards and practices — and if there is a problem, we will be forced to use the stick of large fines.

When workers have a voice in the workplace, they can become fully involved in ensuring their workplaces are safe.

Who better can determine whether a job is safe or not than a worker who has thoroughly trained in workplace safety?

Who better can police the workplace to prevent unscrupulous employers from endangering workers than those workers themselves?

It has now been over a year I took office. And we've been hard at work sending the message that preventable workplace death and injury will not be tolerated by me or this administration.

OSHA recently issued the largest fine in its history — $87 million — to a little company down the road named British Petroleum for their failure to address many of the issues raised following the 2005 explosion at the plant that killed 15 workers.

Today, Jennifer Ornelas is with us — her father, Raymundo Gonzales, was killed at the same BP plant in 2004.

Thank you for being here and supporting this Summit. I really appreciate your presence.

Workers all across this country, especially immigrant workers, face dangerous workplace conditions on a daily basis.

Last month, OSHA cited a company over $200,000 after a Hispanic woman was crushed to death when she was caught in a paving machine she was cleaning. She had neither been trained on how to clean the machinery safely nor had been given a manual to study.

When asked why the employees had not been provided with the manual, the supervisor replied that the employees spoke Spanish and could not read.

It took the OSHA inspector 15 minutes to get the manufacturers safety rules translated, and he found that both operators could read. Assumptions like those made by the supervisor are not uncommon.

But, it should not take a fine for this common sense precaution to be taken — no fine will return this woman to her family — these fines will never equal the loss of precious human life.

But sadly, fines are what it takes to get some people's attention.

We need a system where employers themselves recognize and address all hazards in their workplaces without having OSHA visit them first.

We need to beef up our compliance assistance services so that every worker — including those for whom English may not be a first language — understands the hazards they face, what their rights are and how to use them.

Our OSHA protections apply to every worker in the United States, including those who are undocumented.

Working in this country without documents may be against the law, but it should not be a death sentence.

I also want to assure everyone that OSHA will continue to react swiftly to disturbing workplace safety trends.

Last year, we launched a sweep through the Texas Construction industry in response to a tragic rise in workplace fatalities. OSHA brought inspectors from across the country to conduct nearly 900 inspections throughout the state, resulting in almost 1,500 citations and fines totaling close to $2 million.

As a result, community groups are seeing a visible change. Construction employers are now paying more attention to safety.

But still, too many workers, especially Latino workers, do not report violations. Some fear getting fired or blacklisted for filing an OSHA complaint. Many fear that they will lose their job or face disciplinary action whenever they suffer an injury and report it.

In order to encourage workers to speak up and educate them on their workplace rights, we are launching a public awareness campaign.

Please turn your attention to the television monitors.

[OSHA PSA plays]

They are great, don't you think?

While we are pleased with these efforts, we recognize that more needs to be done to protect workers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act has language forbidding discrimination against workers for exercising their health and safety rights. But, the language is nearly 40 years old and is very difficult for workers to use.

That is why I am urging Congress to pass the Protecting Americas Workers Act to give vulnerable workers more security when they speak out to defend their lives.

The Act will increase penalties and make it a felony when a workers death or serious injury results from a willful violation. Today, it is a misdemeanor.

OSHA needs these new tools to keep workplaces safe.

And OSHA works best when workers are involved and business owners know what the standards are and how to apply them.

I am pleased to announce a number of new worker training initiatives that will be implemented by OSHA.

Currently, OSHA's Compliance Officers check and verify that workers have received the training required by OSHA standards.

Effective April 28th, OSHA will also assure that its Compliance Officers check and verify not only that the training has been provided, but that it was provided in a format that the workers being trained can understand.

OSHA will also launch a construction industry pilot program.

I will be sending a letter to the mayors of ten cities, asking each one to have the city building inspectors work jointly with OSHA and train them to notify us when they observe, during the course of their building inspection work, unsafe work conditions.

We will also strengthen the Susan Harwood Training Grant program, and expand it to a 4-year capacity building grant program for non-profit organizations to help them build permanent workplace safety and health capacity throughout all levels.

We will also announce a new grant category to allow smaller worker-oriented organizations with limited health and safety experience to conduct needs assessments and launch pilot programs for their capacity-building.

Many of you know that our Wage and Hour Division just launched an ambitious new program called “We Can Help” - my message to you our partners here today is that We Want Your Help.

Our focus this week is to ensure that workers know and understand that they have a basic right to a safe workplace. And we need to make sure that employers have the information they need to uphold OSHA standards and safe work practices.

Workers have the right to know what a safe workplace looks like and what hazards they are facing.

They have a right to talk to their employer about unsafe conditions and, if necessary, call OSHA.

They have a right to access safety equipment required by law and get paid for it by the employer.

They have a right to be trained in a language and in a way that they understand.

Workers need to know how to use these rights and not fear retaliation.

And finally, every worker needs to know that they have the right to come home alive at the end of the day.

We have invited all of you here today — community groups who work with Latino workers, day laborers and others who work in high-risk jobs; company representatives to explain how you have succeeded in reaching out to your Latino employees; Unions and business representatives to tell us about innovative training and outreach techniques.

We have invited our own OSHA staff to learn from the community groups, businesses, and unions about the struggles faced by Latino workers and how to work with them.

This is an ambitious undertaking, but one that I know we are committed to. I looked into the eyes of mineworkers families last week and promised — we will do everything we can to prevent more needless deaths — I know you all join me in making that pledge today — every worker deserves no less than that.

Y para todos los trabajadores les quiero decir que tienen derechosdocumentado o no.

Y nosotros podemos ayudar!

Thank you again for being here, and I look forward to working with all of you.

Muchisimas gracias!