Unions Join Call for Ergonomics Standard

UFCW, UNITE state their cases for why OSHA should not delay in issuing a standard.

Two more labor unions are putting in their two cents' worth in urging OSHA to move forward with issuing an ergonomics program standard.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) will present testimony at OSHA's hearings on the agency's proposed standard for addressing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The hearings began Monday in Washington, D.C., and will continue in Chicago and Portland, Ore.

UFCW considers the proposed ergonomic standard's implementation is critical for workers in the poultry, meatpacking and retail industries, where MSDs are the largest category of reported workplace injuries and illnesses.

The union will bring witnesses to the hearings who will speak about the consequences of failing to control ergonomic stressors. They include poultry and retail workers who will describe their injuries, the effect these injuries have had on their lives and their ability to work. The union will also bring witnesses to report on successful programs that have been implemented in the meatpacking and retail industries. For example, one successful redesign of a grocery checkstand in a St. Louis grocery store chain significantly reduced the number of MSDs cashiers were experiencing.

"OSHA's proposed rule is long overdue and the only solution for protecting workers exposed to the significant hazard of stressful, repetitive motions on the job," UFCW President Douglas H. Dority said. "We look forward to OSHA completing the rulemaking process, with publication of a final rule by the end of the year."

On Monday, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) called upon OSHA to move quickly to adopt an ergonomics standard.

"Workers desperately need strong OSHA standards on extreme workloads and heavy packages," UNITE President Jay Mazur said. "OSHA has been talking about this for 10 years. It's time for action."

Mazur pointed out that many companies have worked with UNITE locally to establish ergonomics programs, "because it saves them money, too." Leading apparel, textile and auto parts companies like Levi Strauss, Xerox, Pillowtex, Fieldcrest-Cannon and Lear Corp. have moved ahead on ergonomics, he said.

Levi Strauss informed UNITE recently that, during the first few years of its ergonomics program, rates of workers' compensation claims for disabling injuries and the average cost of workers' compensation claims dropped by more than 50 percent.

"This is also true for small apparel contractors who have worked with UNITE's training and technical assistance programs to identify key job hazards and even purchase discounted equipment," Mazur said. "But we have to make sure that all employees follow these rules and that all workers get the benefits of safer jobs.

"Faced with the brutal cost pressure from customers like Wal-Mart, many employers refuse to provide even the simplest ergonomic equipment, like adjustable chairs. We need OSHA to force them to treat their workers fairly."

Visit our Web site frequently for the latest on OSHA's ergonomics hearings.

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