As OSHA began hearings this week on its proposed ergonomics program standard, at least one health and safety professional expressed concern that the hearings may hinder the flow of objective information.
Steven Bandy, a manager of corporate environment and safety for Marathon Ashland, like the rest of the safety managers in attendance Monday in Washington, D.C., did not ask any questions of the OSHA panel. Still, Bandy found himself in agreement with at least one of the key arguments of employers' groups trying to scuttle the proposal.
"It appears that the OSHA hearings are purposely restrictive and more concerned with the process than truly obtaining objective information, both pro and con," he said to the panel.
For example, Bandy cited the fact that the hearings began only 11 days after the end of the comment period, hardly enough time for him and other participants to read the nearly 7,000 comments OSHA received on the proposal. Even if OSHA has had time to sort through the material, individual safety managers like Bandy cannot.
"It doesn't allow us to evaluate other people's comments to substantiate or clarify our position," he said. The result is an individualistic, rather than a collaborative, process.
The fact that OSHA named three lawyers, but no physician, to the nine-member panel was further evidence, at least to Bandy, that the agency is more concerned with procedural gamesmanship than exploring the disputed medical and scientific basis of the proposal.
The lawyers who attacked OSHA's hearing process on behalf of their trade association clients have made no secret of their intention to take the agency to court unless it drops its plan to issue the rule this year. As a result, several labor representatives privately dismissed the business groups' procedural complaints as mere legal posturing.
Interestingly enough, blocking the ergonomics rule at all costs appeared to have nothing to do with Bandy's criticism of how OSHA is conducting the hearing. "We think there's a need for an ergonomics standard," he said. "We'd just like to have more information."
The first several days of the hearing in Washington, D.C., are devoted to OSHA witnesses and academic experts. Beginning Tuesday afternoon with Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., the hearing will move to testimony from individuals in government, labor, business and industry.