Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ergonomics - Redux

There was an anonymous comment on the last Ergonomics post that I want to bring out. The commenter said:
"I disagree. I don’t see “substantially similar” meaning no ergonomic standard. What I do see is that OSHA can have ergonomic standards written for specific industry sectors. The national standard was a one size fits all standard and would have been cumbersome for everyone to have to comply with it. If the standards were limited to industries with high rates of ergonomic related injuries the science would be there and injuries and illnesses could actually be substantially reduced.

Under Chao’s 4 pronged approach to ergonomics “research” has already given OSHA 4 industry sectors to start with, Shipyards, Poultry Processing, Retail Grocery Store and Nursing Homes. OSHA should start there.

The new standard would also have to be scaled back a little from the original in that the first one reached too far when it controlled the pay of injured workers. This is clearly not OSHA’s business and should be left to the workers compensation program of the state the injured employee works."
First, a correction, the law uses the phrase "substantially the same," I misquoted the law and I apologize for that.

Obviously the commenter and I disagree on what substantially the same means, but it doesn't really matter because unless the commenter is a highly placed lawyer in DOL, neither of us is going to get to decide what it really means.

I do agree with the commenter that industry specific standards would be much stronger standards, it would allow us to be more specific on things like controls. I also agree that the research has provided us with the industries to start with (in fact the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) provided OSHA a list of 19 industries).

Having said that, I disagree that industry specific standards are the way to go. For crying-out-loud, it took 10 years to get the first ergonomic standard out. Even if we could cut the promulgation time from 10 years down to 5 it would still take almost 100 years to get all of those standards out. This is the same problem we have with updating the PEL tables, too many to do individually.

Yes, the original standard was fatally flawed, not just the job protection provisions, which sent every workers comp carrier in the country into a tizzy, but the trigger levels. Imagine a site with 1,200 office workers and 2 hurt their back moving a desk. Now the company has to put in a whole program? That makes no sense to me.

I'll go back to my earlier position in support of Kane, the best way to address ergonomics (and a lot of other hazards as well) is a comprehensive safety and health program.

1 comment:

  1. The worse part of the program was the compensatory aspects to promote early reporting. Could you image having complaints and enforcement staff going out to get someone’s pay for X number of days (in the event the State does not reimburse the employee). CSHOs would be busy policing and recouping wages ... WOW, wouldn't that suck, especially around hunting season and the 1st week of trout fishing!!!