Monday, March 23, 2009


The OSHA Underground posted a short article on ergonomics today, I just want to comment on the article, I'm not going to get into the whole issue of ergonomics today (maybe later). Kane posted the California Ergonomic standard (it's very short) and asked if that was so hard to adopt into law, and the short answer is: Yes, it is.

First, Congress rescinded our ergonomic standard under the Congressional Review Act (the only time in history that Act has been used, by the way). The CRAct also prohibits us from promulgating a "substantially similar standard" and most people I've talked to think that the term "substantially similar standard" probably means anything that regulates ergonomics.

Second, as a CSHO, I don't want California's standard, it looks to me like a nightmare to try to enforce. How do you decide if an injury is at least 51% work related, especially in older workers? I'm all for performance standards, but this one is too vague for me.

As for blaming this on Foulke, sorry, blame our lawyers. I know a couple of people who have worked on ergo cases and the reason no one is doing them has nothing to do with Foulke and everything to do with how much work one of these cases takes. Look at the timeline, anyone remember the "triage" document? It preceded our current case development procedures, it was a pain in the ass, and it was put into place under the Clinton administration. The current case development procedures are rewrites of the triage document, but the rewrites began under Clinton and finished (kind of) before Henshaw (maybe June of 2002?). Foulke had nothing to do with it.

As for the solution, Kane is right, we desperately need one and it should be a comprehensive safety and health standard, but I think Congress needs to act to rescind their rescission, not so we can promulgate an ergonomic standard, but so we can promulgate a S&H standard without risking losing part of it in court. I suppose we can make the argument that a comprehensive safety and health standard is not substantially similar to our old ergonomic standard, but it seems to me that becomes a risky fight and the cost of failure is too high.

Will Congress act? I'm optimistic they will, between Secretary Solis and Assistant Secretary (OASAM) Kerr (see previous post) we have a strong pro-worker leadership building. If the Assistant Secretary (OSHA) is any one with half as much gumption, we could see the beginnings next year (sorry, too many other things on their plates for this year I think).

1 comment:

  1. 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.