OSHA's Proposed Standard Expected to Be Costly for Employers

An attorney says she is advising her clients to take matters into their own hands when it comes to ergonomics.

Many businesses are up in arms about OSHA's proposal issued on Nov. 23, aimed at reducing repetitive-stress injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Once implemented, the standard is expected to cost 1.6 million employers a minimum of $4.2 billion a year, according to OSHA. Most private industry experts believe the cost will be much higher.

How can companies limit the impact on their business?

Labor and employment attorney, Julie Merrit Pacaro, from Cozen and O'Conner, a law firm headquartered in Philadelphia, is advising her clients to take matters into their own hands to manage the risks posed by the standard now.

"Under the proposal, every business has tremendous exposure. As soon as a company has even one employee complaint about a work-related MSD, the company could be required to implement a costly ergonomics program," said Pacaro. "Any company that requires its workers to do manual lifting will have to develop full-blown ergonomics programs immediately, whether an employee has complained or not."

There are only two ways left for companies to limit the impact these regulations could have on their bottom lines, Pacaro said.

First, she advised companies can try to stop the standard's passage entirely or at least further limit its impact through the upcoming scheduled public hearings or by writing OSHA with their comments.

Participants must notify OSHA of their interest in participating in the hearings by Jan. 24 and all written comments are due by Feb.1.

Also, companies at risk of having to implement an ergonomics program can substantially reduce their costs by taking advantage of the proposal's grandfather clause, said Pacaro.

"It's an extraordinary opportunity, but it only works if they act now," Pacaro commented.

Under the grandfather clause, employers who have effective ergonomics programs meeting the basic obligation of the proposal's six program elements, can have their self-crafted programs "grandfathered in" as satisfying their OSHA obligation.

"It is far less costly and burdensome to fashion a program that meets your own company's needs, than to wait to be forced to adhere to OSHA's intricate 'one size fits all' regulation," noted Pacaro.

Employers can only take advantage of the grandfather clause if their program is in place and effective before the date the regulation goes into effect.

"Because it takes six months to a year to get an ergonomics program up an running, only employers who act now will be able to use the clause effectively," added Pacaro.

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