OSHA issued its final ergonomics rule Monday requiring most of the nation''s employers to create programs to protect workers from the repetitive strains and pains of the workplace.
The rules could face a court challenge by business interests, however, organized labor has been pushing OSHA to release the ergonomics standard for as long as it has been proposed.
"OSHA''s final ergonomics standard is the most important worker safety action developed in the agency''s history," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "Ten years in the making, the new standard will prevent hundreds of thousands of crippling repetitive strain injuries each year. Workers in poultry plants, meat packing and auto assembly, along with computer operators, nurse aides, cashiers and others in high risk jobs will finally have much-needed protection."
Sweeney said for years, big business groups and anti-worker members of Congress have waged a relentless campaign to block the ergonomics standard.
Despite this opposition, Sweeney pointed out that the final rule, which requires employers to identify and fix jobs that cause musculoskeletal disorders, is supported by extensive scientific evidence and an exhaustive rule-making record.
"The testimony of dozens of scientific experts and hundreds of workers presented during the nine weeks of public hearings confirmed that these injuries are caused by workplace exposures and that proven, effective interventions exist," said Sweeney. "In fact, in our view, the evidence supports an even stronger standard -- one that requires action when hazardous exposures are present, instead of delaying action until an injury occurs."
Sweeney said that AFL-CIO will do everything necessary to defend the ergonomics protection measure from certain political and legal attack by corporate opponents and anti-worker members of Congress "so that working people in this country finally have the job safety protections they need and deserve."
Echoing AFL-CIO''s praise of OSHA for its release of the ergonomics standard is the United Autoworkers Union (UAW).
"Ergonomics problems caused by repetitive motion and overexertion lead to the majority of work injuries among UAW members," said Stephen Yokich, UAW president. "Our union has negotiated extensive ergonomics programs with many employers, and we greatly improved our agreements with the auto companies in the most recent industry negotiations."
Yokich continued, "responsible employers all see the need for ergonomics. But the lack of an enforceable standard, ideological opposition and competition from poor corporate citizens limit what we can achieve through negotiations."
UAW submitted hundreds of pages of data and testimony to OSHA, and presented more than 25 witnesses in three cities during the ergonomics hearings.
Although UAW applauds OSHA in its efforts to release an ergonomics standard, Yokich said that the final version of the standard falls somewhat short of many existing ergonomics programs.
"This standard, while a necessary first step, reflects some compromises in the face of fierce industry and political opposition to any rule protecting workers," said Yokich. "It appears to allow employers to defer action until workers are hurt, rather than requiring a more proactive approach."
by Virginia Sutcliffe