From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

The Movement for Ergonomic Protection Regroups

After George Bush signed the law repealing OSHA’s ergonomics
standard on March 20, New York Committee for Occupational
Safety and Health (NYCOSH) Board Chair William Henning
remarked: “Congress could repeal the ergonomics standard, but that
won’t repeal an ergonomic hazard or prevent a single ergonomic
injury. The toll of disabling ergonomic injuries just keeps
mounting up, increasing by nearly 5000 a day.”

“The standard could prevent more than half of those injuries,”
Henning continued. “As far as I’m concerned, the Members of
Congress who voted to repeal the standard should be charged with
assault, because they said that it’s okay for an employer to do
nothing about an ergonomic hazard that is hurting workers.”

On April 26 safety and health activists and unions will have an
opportunity to confront Congress with the result of their having
made the world safe for ergonomic hazards when Sen. Arlen Specter
(R-PA) holds a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee
on Labor to discuss ergonomics. The AFL-CIO is planning to use
the meeting as a focal point for the next round of organizing to
win ergonomic protections for workers.

“We are not giving up this fight,” said Service Employees
International Union health and safety director Bill Borwegen.
“Nursing home workers in particular, suffer more ergo-related
injuries than any other occupation. We plan to move forward at
all levels: workplace, local, state and federal. Continuing the
fight will also be the theme for Worker Memorial Day activities
around the country.”

By the time Specter holds the hearing, more than 175,000 workers
will have sustained an ergonomic injury in the six weeks since the
standard was repealed, according to projections by the Labor
Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The AFL-CIO is
tallying the number of workers who have sustained an injury from
an ergonomic hazard since March 20, when President Bush signed the
legislation repealing the standard. The BLS-based count,
increases by one every 18 seconds. It has already passed the 125,000 mark. To view the count, go to the
AFL-CIO website and scroll down to “Safety and
Health on the Job” in the right margin.

With the repeal of the ergonomics standard
last month, unions and safety and health activists began a
concerted effort to find a strategy that will protect workers from
ergonomic hazards, which cause more serious work-related injuries
than any other on-the-job danger.

On the federal level, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and several
members of the congressional leadership have committed themselves
to addressing ergonomics in a way in a way which will presumably be more acceptable to the
National Association of Manufacturers
than the standard that was repealed. “To persuade swing voters in
Congress, the Bush administration promised to produce an
ergonomics standard, and we’re going to hold them to it,” said
NYCOSH Executive Director Joel Shufro. “Of course, whatever they
come up with will certainly not be as strong as the regulation
that was just repealed, but we are fighting for a standard that
will prevent the needless injuries that are now inflicted on
working people,” he added.

Activists are also considering calling for state or local
government ergonomics standards. A lack of sufficient resources
makes it unlikely that there will be a push for standards in a
large number of locations, but organizers believe that there may
be specific locations where a state or local standard is within
reach, or the drive for a state standard could be an essential
organizing tool.

Many activists have already begun to promote the approval of
pro-ergonomics resolutions by local unions, labor federations, and
city governments, in an effort to build a constituency for
ergonomic protections. Some organizations have begun lobbying
city governments to enforce an ergonomics standard for municipal
employees. For example, NYCOSH is urging the four Democratic New York City mayoral candidates in the upcoming election to promise an
ergonomics standard for city workers. In a letter to each of the
candidates, Henning and Shufro asked whether each of them “as
chief executive of the City, [would] implement an ergonomics
program similar to that promulgated by OSHA for workers in the
employ of the city?” NYCOSH will publish their replies when they
are received.

Many local unions are discussing the strategy of raising
ergonomics protections in collective bargaining, possibly making
the text of OSHA’s ergonomics standard part of a contract, as some
locals of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile
Employees (UNITE) have already.

–Contributed by Jonathan Bennett
Public Affairs Director, New York Committee for Occupational
Safety and Health.

This article is adapted from the latest edition of the Update on
Safety and Health, a
biweekly newsletter published by NYCOSH, a non-profit provider
of occupational safety
and health training, advocacy and information to workers and
unions throughout the New
York metropolitan area. Used with permission. For more
information about NYCOSH, visit
Jonathan Bennett has been reporting on occupational safety and
health issues for 25