On November 30 trade groups representing commercial and residential builders launched a new appeal against the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) voluntary ergonomics standard for the construction industry. No enforcement authority accompanies this standard, yet the industry is working hard to see it scrapped. One report suggests that the approach of the 2008 United States election could have something to do with the industry’s zeal.
According to its mission statement, the Washington-based Institute was set up 90 years ago to “empower its members and constituents to strengthen the US marketplace position in the global economy while helping to assure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment.” The body oversees the creation, promulgation and use of thousands of norms and guidelines that directly impact businesses in nearly every sector.
The standard at issue is “Reduction of Musculoskeletal Problems in Construction,” (ANSI/ASSE A10.40-200X), which is aimed at reducing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in construction workers. It notes that construction workers and supervisors should be trained to recognize risk factors and reduce the risk of MSDs through proper work techniques. Its suggestions include offering breaks and job rotation for repetitive tasks and allowing employees to work with items at waist height to avoid bending over. Employee participation and an injury management program are also discussed in the standard.
Reporting on the appeal, the publication Occupational Hazards noted that The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) oversaw the process that led to ANSI’s adoption of the standard for final review on June 4. The construction industry appeal, according to the publication, states that there is no scientific evidence to support the need for the standard or evidence that the standard could prevent MSD injuries, and calls for its “immediate withdrawal.”
Speaking for the standard, James D. Smith, Vice President of the ASSE Council on Practices and Standards, extols its economic benefits. Following the industry’s first appeal in May, he told the publication Occupational Health and Safety that ASSE members “work with employers and employees daily to increase workplace safety by developing and implementing effective ergonomic solutions.” He added that these are “solutions that can remove barriers to quality, productivity, and human performance by fitting products, tasks, and environments to people, which in turn can save millions of dollars."
For the trade groups, a key argument is the presentation of the guidelines as a consensus standard. They say the committee that voted 76 percent in favor of the standard did not represent a consensus because it was stacked with pro-ergonomic members. The appeal also claimed the process was flawed by “fatal procedural deficiencies, “ and that some of the issues “are so contentious they do not lend themselves to the development of consensus standards.”
Occupational Hazards points out that about half of all ANSI voluntary standards are later used to support or create federal rules. The industry may be concerned that OSHA might model a future rule based on the ANSI standard, or may begin citing employers for ergonomics infractions because of the standard.
An appeal decision is expected in February 2008.
Sources: ANSI; Occupational Hazards; Occupational Health and Safety