The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) recently released a new draft of an ergonomics standard that faces an uncertain ride through the legislative process. Four years in the making, it is designed to reduce occupational risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The state’s manufacturers and business community oppose it, seeing it as a financial drain in a state already hard hit by the nation’s economic downturn.
Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Michigan, told state regulators after the release to go back and "do over" the proposal. His comments came during testimony before a joint meeting of MIOSHA, the General Industry Safety Standards Commission (GISS) and the Occupational Health Standards Commission (OHSC). The standard, as proposed, would make Michigan the only state besides California with an ergonomics standard.
It would require:
• All employees to be given ergonomics training covering occupational risk factors for MSDs, symptoms, and reporting procedures.
• Employers to be responsible for involving employees; assessing risk factors; and eliminating, reducing or controlling ergonomic hazards "where economically and technically feasible."
• Employers with an existing "effective ergonomic program" would be judged to be in prior compliance with the training and assessment/response requirements
In an interview with The Ergonomics Report™ in November 2005, the director of MIOSHA, Doug Kalinowski , explained the standard as a legacy of the failed effort to institute a federal ergonomics standard in 2001. "The OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] situation raised awareness." He said that 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.
Then Republican Governor John Engler agreed, according to Kalinowski. Two of the state’s original three OSHA standards committees formed a sub group, built the outline for the project and set up the Ergonomics Advisory Committee to come up with appropriate wording for the rules.
In an interview with the Michigan Business Review after the August release of the proposed standard, Kalinowski described it as a significant and contentious issue in the state, “even though [it] is fairly minimal.”
Charles Owens, director of the Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business,
told the Review that it “will make us uncompetitive with rest of country, and it’s just astounding that they’re contemplating even making this rule mandatory."
Federal OSHA estimates in 2001 put the cost of repetitive-stress injuries on the job at $20 billion annually, or about a third of employers’ total workers’ compensation costs. Standards proposed by federal regulators at that time were estimated to cost employers $5 billion, but those were blocked by congressional action.
Sources: MIOSHA; National Federation of Independent Business; The Ergonomics Report™; Michigan Business Review