After receiving more than 8,000 written public comments and listening to more than 700 witnesses testify at public hearings -- some of whom were paid $10,000 by OSHA -- OSHA has issued its long-awaited ergonomics rule.
The final rule was changed in significant ways from the 1999 proposed standard.
One of the most significant differences is the final regulation cuts back on work restriction protection (WRP) for injured workers, one of the provisions businesses objected to the most.
In the final rule WRP last for only 90 days or until the employee is able to return to work, whichever comes first. Under the proposed rule WRP benefits lasted for up to six months.
The action trigger -- another controversial provision -- has also been changed, although here it is far from clear that industry will approve of the change. Instead of having to implement an ergonomics program after one or more recordable musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), businesses must now determine whether the illness is job related as soon as signs or symptoms are reported.
The scope of the new rule has been modified: it now covers all general industry instead of having a special focus on manufacturing and manual handling jobs.
The "grandfather" clause has been loosened somewhat in response to industry complaints that not a single company would have met the stringent criteria of the proposed rule. To comply with the grandfather clause and thus avoid having to comply with the standard a company must:
- have and ergonomics program written and implemented by Nov. 14, 2000;
- have a program containing management leadership, employee participation and job hazard analysis and control, training, and program evaluation; and
- have an MSD management policy implemented by Jan. 16, 2002.
The standard is to be effective Jan. 16, 2001 and employers must begin to distribute information on the standard to employees and begin receiving and responding to reports of injuries no later than Oct. 14, 2001.
However, the rule is certain to be challenged in court by industry groups and one of the things they will ask for is a stay that could delay the implementation of the rule indefinitely.
The official version of the regulatory text appears on OSHA''s Web site at www.osha.gov.
by James Nash