When Maggie Flanagan tried to tell people about her own experience with workplace ergonomics last year, nobody wanted to listen. As a nurse in Washington state who had previously developed a back injury that almost kept her from returning to a job she’d held for nearly two decades, Flanagan wanted to ensure voters in the state, who were about to decide on an initiative that would revoke the state’s ergonomics rule, knew what she felt the stakes could be without workplace ergonomics protection. But voters, it turned out, never got a chance to find out.
Flanagan found herself mixed up in the us-versus-them nature of ergonomics regulation. Business doesn’t want to be told what to do; workers want to know they’re protected no matter what. Government wedges itself somewhere in the middle. For Flanagan, getting her grassroots message to the decision makers, in this case the voters, meant wading through all of the finger pointing. Ultimately, Flanagan found that even her story about an injury that could have been prevented by simple ergonomics improvements to a workstation, became a topic of debate. The reporters, workers themselves, were interested but their publishers weren’t.
When the issue at stake is ergonomics regulations, rarely do all sides see eye-to-eye. Over the course of its regulation history in the United States as a local, state and federal issue, ergonomics has been labeled costly, a junk science, a worker-only protection, and unnecessary. Rarely, when regulations are involved, is ergonomics labeled as “beneficial” for everyone, but in reality, it is.
The reason for its bad reputation could center around the government’s involvement. Government tends to note only one aspect of ergonomics
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-10-06.