Opponents of OSHA's proposed ergonomics standard, published Monday (Nov. 22) in the Federal Register, contend there isn't enough scientific evidence to prove causation of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The standard, they claim, would be overburdening for employers and cost much more than any benefits that resulted.
"The National Coalition on Ergonomics (NCE) is disappointed that OSHA insists on rushing forward with this regulation," NCE co-chair Ed Gilroy told Occupational Hazards after the OSHA press conference.
Gilroy said there are still many unanswered questions regarding ergonomic science. "How much weight is too heavy? How many times of lifting an object is too many?" he asked. Gilroy indicated that, in addition, no one knows how much factors outside the workplace can contribute to work-related MSDs, which vary greatly from person to person.
The House passed a bill that would have kept a proposed ergonomics standard from being released until a National Academy of Science study is completed in a couple of years. The Senate, though, was unable to pass a similar measure.
After conceding defeat in this first battle over ergonomics, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., vowed Oct. 7 from the Senate floor that he would find a way to get the substance of Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond's ergo amendment passed by Congress this year. That did not happen.
Bond, R-Mo., who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business, in the Oct. 7 floor debate accused OSHA of being "on a rampage to impose new mandates with no clear thresholds or guidance to address the causes of these injuries." Instead, Bond said, OSHA says to employers: "We know there's a problem, and we can't figure it out. So we expect you to figure it out for us, and we will inspire you with fines and penalties if you don't."
Not only are opponents disputing the need for an ergonomics standard, but contend that OSHA is vastly underestimating its price tag.
Kevin Burke, vice president of government relations for Food Distributors International (FDI), calls the agency's $4.2 billion implementation cost "absolutely ludicrous." A new study just completed for FDI, which represents 242 grocery wholesale and foodservice distribution companies, estimates that the proposal could cost its members alone $26 billion in the first year and $6 billion annually thereafter.
"That cost is based on the assumption that only 10 percent of our member companies would be forced to completely retool or rebuild their warehouse facilities to comply with OSHA's requirements," Burke said. "Clearly, OSHA's estimates are grossly underestimated."