The first of three Department of Labor Forums on Ergonomics opened this morning at George Mason University. The forums, organized by the Department of Labor to answer questions concerning ergonomics and the merits of having a federal standard, have been sharply criticized as being both repetitive and exclusive.
The AFL-CIO reports that at these forums, “representatives of Big Business will outnumber workers’ advocates by a 2-to-1 margin”. “OSHA already has 10 years of study and thousands of pages of evidence about the urgent need” for programs to protect workers from repetitive strain injuries, adds Eric Frumin, UNITE’s safety and health director. “They are creating a smokescreen, and no one is going to fall for this nonsense.”
One supporter, The United States Chamber of Commerce, stated, “The Chamber applauds OSHA’s current efforts to conduct a serious, thorough, and unbiased analysis of the scientific, medical and other evidence underlying ergonomics and individual musculoskeletal complaints,”said Willis Goldsmith, a partner with Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, on behalf of the Chamber. “Moreover, the Chamber wholeheartedly endorses the principles that Secretary Chao has set forth to govern this effort.”
“Given the degree of uncertainty surrounding ergonomic injuries, the administration should develop voluntary standards and guidelines that focus on prevention and that are based on sound science,” said Goldsmith. “We welcome the opportunity to work with the Labor Department to develop new guidelines for ergonomic problems.”
While many people had submitted an Intent to Speak, DOL reports that only about one-third of those who submitted such intentions were able to be accommodated.
One of the groups who did voice an opinion was the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). According to Business Wire, ASSE President M.E. Eddie Greer, CSP, recommended that if an ergonomic standard is developed it should:
- be performance based and not use a one-size-fits-all approach to ergonomics;
- require an ergonomic evaluation, and be performed by a person competent in ergonomic-related issues;
- have the issue of a trigger mechanism be part of the public debate, as the goal of any DoL/OSHA standard is to prevent injury, illness, and fatality, and not allow an incident to take place before
- emphasis should be placed on improvement versus overly detailed specifications; and
- be created through private/public sector partnerships, such as the negotiated rulemaking process, or the multiple stakeholders input process as exemplified by metalworking fluids or the proposed silica rulemaking.
“If OSHA develops a stand-alone ergonomic standard, it needs to be supported by a cohesive outreach effort melding the resources of OSHA, business associations, professional societies and academia,” Greer stated. “Such a program can be supported by positive reinforcement actions such as penalty reductions for good faith efforts by employers and by granting tax credits for the creation/maintenance of an acceptable program.”