Michigan’s business and manufacturing groups want to halt efforts to adopt a mandatory workplace ergonomics standard in the state. They have fought hard against the standard from the start, and the worsening economic crisis has given them a new weapon. Calling on Gov. Jennifer Granholm to kill the process, they argue the standard is unnecessary and a job killer. A key vote is due this week.
Commissions set up by state regulators are scheduled to take a preliminary—but key—vote on potential rules this week.
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) released a new draft of the standard in 2008. Four years in the making, it is designed to reduce occupational risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Its opponents see it as a financial drain in a state already hard hit by the nation’s economic downturn. A coalition including the National Federation of Independent Business argued at a Lansing news conference on January 9 that the rules are not needed because many employers voluntarily make improvements aimed at reducing the number of workplace injuries caused by repetitive movements. They say mandatory ergonomics training and reporting would raise the cost of doing business at a time many employers are struggling because of Michigan’s poor economy.
Quoted in Michigan’s Detroit Free Press, MIOSHA Director Doug Kalinowski denied that advisory commissions will commit the state to a burdensome rule when they vote. He said the process will get under way if the commissions recommend it, but could take 18 months or more to complete.
Quoted in the same newspaper, Charles Owens, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), argued that ergonomic injuries have been declining in Michigan in the last decade under voluntary standards adopted by the federal government. Business owners are under enough stress in the current economic climate without the burden of new rules and reports, he said. "You couldn’t pick a worse time."
Early in 2001 when the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was defending its new ergonomics standard, which was under fire in Congress, it estimated that $4.5 billion would be spend nationwide on the standard, but that ergonomic improvements can garner $9 billion in savings. The argument didn’t prevail: On 7 March 2001, the then-Republican Congress voted to repeal it—a joint resolution signed by President George W. Bush on 20 March 2001.
In an interview with The Ergonomics Report™ in November 2005, MIOSHA Director Doug Kalinowski explained Michigan’s standard as a legacy of the failed effort to institute the federal standard in 2001. "The OSHA situation raised awareness," he said. After it was killed and rules were eliminated, one of the state’s OSHA commissioners looked at the number of workplace injuries and suggested a standard could make sense for Michigan. The commissioner argued that even minimal rules could have some impact.
California is the only state with its own ergonomics rules. The federal government has voluntary ergonomics guidelines.
Sources: NFIB; MIOSHA; Detroit Free Press; Ergonomics Report™