Michigan Senate OKs Bill to Thwart Ergonomics Standard

In the wake of layoffs and factory closings, Michigan lawmakers Tuesday passed a bill that would prevent the state from adopting an ergonomics standard, claiming it only would aggravate Michigan's job economy.

The Senate voted 22-14 along party lines for the bill, which is intended to impede Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration from requiring ergonomics standards in workplaces.

Granholm likely will veto the bill, according to her spokeswoman, Liz Boyd.

"This is a workplace safety issue," Boyd told Occupationalhazards.com. "Former Gov. John Engler started putting [an ergonomics standard] into place with careful thought, as well as the advisory committee, and we believe the commission should be able to continue its work."

The debate as to whether promulgating an ergonomics standard would benefit Michigan's businesses comes at a time when Detroit-based Ford Motor Co. plans to lay off 35,000 workers.

Franklin Mirer, United Auto Workers union safety director, said the requirement could give Michigan a competitive edge, as many automakers are based in Michigan and are leaders in the field. Likewise, Democrats in favor of implementing an ergonomic standard said the regulations could help businesses save more money by not having as many injured workers who need health care.

The number of work-related injuries is in decline in Michigan, but sprains and overexertion lead to more than half of all workers' compensation claims, according to Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) officials.

Republican leaders claim ergonomics mandates could cost Michigan businesses $500 million a year.

Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, the chief sponsor of the bill passed Tuesday, said applying tighter workplace restrictions would be more damaging to the state's economy, as the new rules would kill jobs and discourage companies from locating in Michigan.

"We have to realize we're fighting for jobs, and we can't be different from the rest of the country," Jones told The Detroit News. "People are leaving Michigan to find jobs."

The advisory commission, assembled by MIOSHA after federal ergonomics rules were repealed in 1996, has drafted a dozen possible sets of state ergonomic standards.

Thus far, the rules would require employers to give their workers ergonomics awareness training and conduct formal assessments of their injury risk factor.

Currently, California is the only state with its own ergonomic rules.

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