Michigan Chamber of Commerce Reiterates Warning Against Ergonomics Standard

Michigan’s Chamber of Commerce praised an initiative called "Take a Stand Day" in a September news release, then fired another broadside at the state's proposed mandatory ergonomics standard.  Opponents of the ergonomics rule have little to worry about for the present: Michigan's extreme economic malaise leaves little space on the legislative agenda for ergonomics issues.

The "Take a Stand" initiative of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) provides one-on-one consultations with employers to identify ways to address health and safety issues in the workplace — without fear of citations or fines.

The ergonomics rule, on the other hand, is likely to have teeth. According to the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG), it would assess risk factors that may contribute to work-related musculoskeletal disorders and establish a minimal rule for training.

The rule’s supporters maintain it will reduce preventable injuries that cost employers millions in worker's compensation and lost time. Opponents argue it will raise the cost of doing business at a time many employers are struggling because of the state’s ailing economy.

The opponents prevailed in 2006 when Michigan lawmakers passed a bill to prevent the state from adopting an ergonomics rule, but work on formulating the rule didn’t stop. MIOSHA released a new draft in September 2008, and the state's regulators voted unanimously to advance the bill on January 14, 2009.

Supporters predicted the bill would be passed before the end of the year, but it appears to be languishing in the legislative process as lawmakers grapple with ideological differences and a massive revenue shortfall to agree on a budget before an October deadline.

And the business community’s frequent description of the rule as a job killer resonates with the lawmakers as the state’s jobless rate climbs. In August, according to DLEG data, it reached 15.2 percent. The once worrisome rate of 8.6 percent unemployment the state posted in August 2008 now seems like a relic of the good old days, the Detroit News noted on September 17.

"If the [Gov. Jennifer] Granholm administration truly wants to provide assistance to job providers, they will take a stand against the proposed state ergonomics standard,” said Jim Holcomb, Vice President of Business Advocacy and Associate General Counsel for the Michigan Chamber, in its news release. He added that the proposed regulatory mandate is “unclear, burdensome and likely to cost Michigan businesses – large and small – hundreds of millions of dollars and increase job losses across the state.”

Sources: Michigan Chamber of Commerce; DLEG; MIOSHA; Detroit News


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