OSHA Head, Business Group Tell Each Other to Change

It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress has challenged the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to "change its tune" and support his two top regulatory priorities: ergonomics and safety and health programs.

It is OSHA that needs to change, replied the association's vice president, Patrick Cleary, in a statement issued the day after Jeffress addressed the association at its July 21 meeting. "Industry is overregulated and tired of a one-size-fits-all solution to workplace issues," Cleary said.

Jeffress told the business group he expects the long-awaited ergonomics proposal to be published in the Federal Register this fall, and he asked for help in crafting a flexible, practical rule. Calling a safety and health program "the single most important thing an employer can do to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses," Jeffress said that before he leaves office, he wants such a program to become the fundamental responsibility of every employer in the country. Regulations are needed, he argued, because only 30 percent of businesses have established safety and health programs.

Jeffress challenged NAM to stop seeing regulations from a win-lose perspective. New rules can be "win-win," he asserted, because businesses' productivity and profits have risen because of past agency regulations.

Cleary disputed almost every statement made by the OSHA administrator. He said Jeffress is "dead wrong" about the number of companies with safety and health programs. According to a recent NAM survey, nearly 80 percent of its members have written programs in place.

Jeffress also apparently failed to win over the association on ergonomics. "It would be reckless if OSHA continued its plan to advance an ergonomic standard regardless of the fact that it is based on insufficient scientific and medical evidence," Cleary said. Generally, industry understands the connection between a safer workplace and business goals such as quality, productivity and profitability, Cleary argued.

"Mr. Jeffress would like to believe manufacturers do it because of OSHA, but it's not true," he said. "They do it for their employees and because it makes good business sense."

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