From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Michigan Fights Workplace Ergonomics

We were chastised by a reader recently for not writing anything about the latest happenings in an ongoing political battle over workplace ergonomics, this time rearing it’s ugly head in the state of Michigan, USA. Emotions are running high, and ergonomics is being portrayed as a huge cost to business, and an example of creeping socialism. On one side of the debate stands organized labor and state regulators and Democratic party interests, and on the other side stands business organizations and Republican party interests, led by newly elected Governor Rick Snyder. And, for the most part, ergonomists stand in the shadows, because we have no industry trade association to represent us or assist us in informing the public about the value we bring to society.

Ergoweb has covered the evolution of the proposed Michigan ergonomics standard in at least 11 articles since 2003. So, why didn’t we jump at the opportunity to write about these most recent events? Frankly, because the whole thing nauseates us. How many times, and for how long, will we put our cards in the hands of others who have ulterior political motives? Let’s put the politics aside, please, and focus our collective efforts on creating value through the broad application of human centered design (ergonomics), not on trying to force businesses to adhere to a narrow health and safety view that’s inherent to OSHA regulations.

But, for the record, here’s the latest in the Michigan ergonomics regulation saga: The legislature and the governor passed a new law that took effect March 24, 2011. Here it is: 



Sec. 408.1017 Workplace ergonomics; promulgation of rules prohibited; federal rules or guidelines; "workplace ergonomics" defined.



Sec. 17.
(1) A department, board, or commission authorized to promulgate rules under this act shall not promulgate a rule or establish a standard regarding workplace ergonomics. This subsection does not apply to the adoption by reference of a federal workplace ergonomics rule.
(2) A department, board, or commission authorized to promulgate rules under this act may provide guidance, best practices information, or assistance for the voluntary implementation or practice of a workplace ergonomics program. If there are federal occupational safety and health administration ergonomics guidelines, the guidance or other assistance shall not advocate workplace ergonomic programs that are more stringent than indicated in those guidelines.
(3) For purposes of this section, "workplace ergonomics" means a program or practice that addresses musculoskeletal disorders that are caused by repetitive motion or stress.


So, what do you think? Is the ergonomics community better off waiting a few more years hoping that the political climate changes, or do we roll up our sleeves and get to work to prove the value of our contributions to society? Do we rely on political parties, narrowly focused health and safety activists, and various other political players to tell our story, or do we organize ourselves and move forward in a positive manner that supports the needs of businesses, workers and citizens alike?

For example, there have recently been many high profile reports in the USA media detailing incidents of air traffic controllers sleeping on the job. Our profession has a story to tell about the reasons, potential outcomes, and solutions for this serious problem. This seems like an opportune time to be able to stand up and explain the role of ergonomics in recognizing, evaluating, and solving this kind of problem. It’s time we establish an industry trade group for ergonomics — one that can rise to the challenges we face — and one that can capture and communicate the value we bring to the world.