Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Governor’s Industrial Safety and Health Conference
October 20, 1999
PUTTING SAFETY FIRST
Thanks, it’s great to be here. I’d like to thank Bruce Zeller and the entire Industrial Safety and Health Advisory Board, and Gary Moore and his staff at Labor & Industries for all of the hard work that went into organizing the conference. And thank you all for coming here today. Lots of people talk the talk about health and safety, but by being here today you’re walking the walk. I’d also like to thank the lifesavers—the 24 Washingtonians who stepped in in times of crisis and saved the lives of fellow human beings. We’re honored to be in your presence.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a roofer, climbing up a ladder to begin the day’s work. As you near the top, something gives way and suddenly you’re falling. A thousand thoughts race through your mind in the split seconds before you collide with the ground: Your spouse, your children and on and on. The thoughts turn to questions as you lay in pain waiting for a co-worker to come to your aid: How seriously are you hurt? How long will you be off work? Who’ll pay for the hospital and medical bills? How will the bills be paid? What about the house payment? Julie’s braces? Tommy’s college tuition?
Fortunately, you live in Washington where we have one of the top workers’ compensation systems in the nation. Washington workers who are injured or become ill on the job receive some of the best benefits paid in the United States. And they enjoy these benefits even though Washington employers pay some of the lowest premiums in the nation. We know this because last year a comprehensive third-party audit reached those findings. In fact, for the last five years there have been no rate increases and over half a billion dollars in rate reductions. In February of this year I traveled around our state giving money back to employers. That was part of the 200 million dollar tax refund of workers’ compensation premiums. 130,000 employers reaped the financial benefits of that 22.3% tax refund.
Even with the rate cuts and tax break on premiums, our workers’ comp system remains strong. The money is there to pay benefits for workers who get hurt or ill on the job.
And legislation I signed earlier this year will allow more employers to take part in the state’s retrospective rating program. That’s the program designed to give money back to employers who meet goals to reduce claims and make their workplaces safer.
And it’s a program that works. Since 1981, the program has returned over 700 million dollars to businesses. And even more importantly, thousands of workplaces are much safer today and fewer workers are being injured.
But let’s return just for a moment to that roofing job that I mentioned a moment ago. Once again you’re headed up that ladder to start the day. Only this time the ladder doesn’t slip; you don’t fall and no one is injured. The fall has been prevented. And what we now have is the best kind of workers’ comp claim there is—the one that doesn’t get filed because the injury never occurs.
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that. You already know it and that’s precisely why we’ve gathered today. To prevent occupational injury and illness. When a worker is injured it costs everyone. The worker suffers pain. The worker’s family suffers the loss or temporary loss of a loved one. The employer not only suffers the loss of a trained worker, but also the likelihood that premiums will rise. In addition, the employer also faces lost productivity and the added expense of training a replacement worker. It’s a bad situation from every viewpoint. But we don’t have to face these situations when we prevent them from happening in the first place.
How do we do this? Cooperation is the key to preventing workplace injury and illness—cooperation between labor, management and government. Each group is an important and irreplaceable part of the formula. If we work together and put worker health and safety first, workers will be better off. And so will management’s bottom line.
A key to making health and safety a primary focus in every organization is the active involvement of the workers through health and safety committees, management leadership, and employee participation.
I am very impressed with Steve Rotel, the Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Weyerhaeuser Company. Steve revised his corporate goals and made worker health and safety one of the three main corporate goals, right along with shareholder return and efficient capital allocation. Steve Rotel understands the higher virtue of prevention and the financial smartness of putting workers’ health and safety first.
I’m also impressed with the Boeing Machinists Safety and Health Institute. This is a joint labor and management effort to ensure health and safety, and it’s the best program around, next to the auto industry.
Let’s all commit, as Weyerhaeuser and Boeing have, to putting worker health and safety first. Let’s, each and every one of us, work for the day when every man and every woman who leaves their home at the beginning of the day comes home at the end of the day, safe and healthy. I know I can count on you to help make Washington a better place to live, to work, and to raise a family. Thank you for all you are doing to make Washington a safer place to work.