Ergonomics - Redux
On April 5, the Bush administration announced a "comprehensive plan designed to dramatically reduce ergonomic injuries through a combination of industry-targeted guidelines, tough enforcement measures, workplace outreach, advanced research, and dedicated efforts to protect Hispanic and other immigrant workers." The Bush administration's ergonomics program is a far cry from the regulatory ergonomics standard promulgated during the waning hours of the Clinton era. Instead of the Clinton administration's mandatory scheme - which business widely regarded as unduly burdensome, costly and overly broad - the new proposal seeks to protect workers from repetitive-stress injuries by asking companies to meet voluntary new safety guidelines.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with developing voluntary industry and task-specific guidelines based upon current incidence rates and available information about effective and feasible solutions. This work will take into account guidelines and best practices already developed, including OSHA's Meatpacking Guidelines, issued in 1990. OSHA expects to start releasing guidelines by year's end for industries with high rates of muscular-skeletal injuries.
While such guidelines will not be mandatory, OSHA Director John Henshaw has publicly stated that his agency is developing specialized ergonomic inspection teams and will bring enforcement actions under the OSH Act's General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), against "industries that had high injury rates and took few steps to reduce them." Among the industries OSHA might focus on are nursing homes, which historically have one of the highest rates of workplace-related injuries. Industries with high numbers of Hispanic workers are also likely to be targeted, given that Hispanic workers have a higher rate of workplace injuries and death because of their greater participation in the "worst low-end jobs" The administration's program also will provide increased "compliance assistance" to help train companies and workers on how to reduce workplace injuries and envisions the formation of a national advisory committee to study ergonomics issues and advise OSHA .