Labor unions representing state and federal workers applauded the publication of OSHA''s final ergonomic standard saying it is an important victory for workers.
"This is a truly historic victory for worker safety," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). AFSCME represents 1.3 million public service and health care sector workers.
"But the final battle for an ergonomic standard is not yet over," warned McEntee. "There are a number of factors, including the outcome of the Presidential election, that could affect the future of this standard and the health and safety of millions of workers."
The fight over ergonomics will also continue in courts and in Congress.
The Chamber of Commerce and other business interests have recently filed lawsuits to stop the OSHA standard.
"Legislators and business leaders must be interested in more than the bottom line," said McEntee. "A successful business in not just measured by the dollars it brings in, but by the health and safety of its employees."
In issuing the regulations, OSHA projected that over the first 10 years of implementation, more than 3 million workdays lost to ergonomic injuries would be prevented in general industry.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) said echoed McEntee''s thoughts saying that there can be no higher priority in the workplace than the health and safety of those who work there.
NTEU represents more than 155,000 employees in agencies and departments.
"OSHA has said that employers with ergonomics programs report a direct link in improved product quality, while leading to better employee health and safety and reduced turnover and absenteeism, along with lower productivity costs," said Kelley. "It is clear that these standards make good sense, economically and otherwise."
Business groups opposed to the rule have argued that it is not based on sound scientific proof.
Noting that the cost and impact of ergonomics injuries, affecting the hands, back and other portions of the musculoskeletal system, haven been documented and studied over at least the past 20 years, Kelley said, "it is well past time for us to take this important stop forward in protecting the health of America''s working men and women, including federal employees."
Bobby L. Harnage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents more than 600,000 federal and Washington, D.C. government workers said, "the long overdue standard is a big step toward major improvement in federal workplaces."
The biggest problem with the standard, she said, is that OSHA cannot fine federal government employers other than the Postal Service for safety violations.
However, Harnage remains optimistic that, with the standard in place, AFGE can put pressure on the government to correct ergonomics violations.
"AFGE worked very hard on this standard for its members," said Harnage. "We will work to see that the new OSHA standard is implemented within the federal workplace."
by Virginia Sutcliffe