July 24 – News on the Radio said the Pickets were out early and loud. One hour before the Forum began, they were there shouting “It’s a Sham”! The signs said “Don’t get BushWhacked!”
The Department of Labor Forum included 5 speakers representing Labor, 4 speakers chosen by Industry, 13 speakers representing various large organizations and 7 people who were “drawn from a hat”.
Industry speakers focused on the lack of a clear way to tell ‘how much is to much’ in repetitive motion exposure. Other points made were that the forms and tools used to evaluate jobs and work are not standardized and that causation can be attributed to non-physical aspects of work as well as physical action .
Greg Dohm, Sr. Engineer in Employee Health Services at a GoodRich subsidiary, said that job hazard analysis was the way to go. He stated that a proactive approach was absolutely necessary but that regulation was not.
Dr. Lloyd Fisher, from the University of Washington stated that it was impossible to really tell that programs work because it takes two years before the Hawthorne Effect dissipates. And if you keep making changes, the Hawthorne Effect keeps being initiated.
People from Labor and injured workers stressed that although some companies do make good faith efforts toward worker safety, many will do nothing unless there is a law. Bill Kristy, an injured worker, talked about the need for pro-active standards and stated that no one ever completely recovers from an MSD injury.
People from Industry and Management focused on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and related research. They spoke as if CTS was the only Musculo Skeletal Disorder that Ergonomics addressed. No speaker clearly stated that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is only part of the problem. The impression given during the forum was that research on Carpal Tunnel applied equally to all MSDs.
One speaker, as he was leaving the platform compared worker exposure in repetitive motion injuries to employee exposure to chemical hazards. He said that OSHA’s practice has been, when there is clear evidence of employee injury or illness, to restrict allowable exposure long before studies definitively set a ‘safe’ exposure level.
There did seem to be one area of agreement. Both Labor and Management stated that they could support California’s Ergonomics regulation.
It’s anyone’s guess what the Department of Labor will do with this conflicting information. Maybe it is a sham, aimed at placating people who want to be heard. Maybe they already have a plan, and will put it into action no matter what is said. Maybe they listened carefully, and the opposing ideas will result in a stalemate. But maybe these forums will result in thoughtful action.