In testimony presented at the Department of Labor's (DOL) public forum about ergonomics being held at George Mason University in Virginia beginning Monday, American Society of Safety Engineer (ASSE) President M.E. Eddie Greer, CSP, stated that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ergonomics and provided recommendations that should be addressed when developing an ergonomic standard, if a decision is made to move forward with one.
Following the repeal by Congress of the OSHA ergonomics standard earlier this year, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao announced in June that public hearings would be held across the country this month in an effort to determine what role the department should play in solving ergonomic problems.
In his testimony to the DOL panel ASSE's Greer recommended that if an ergonomic standard is developed it should:
- be performance based and not use a one-size-fits-all approach to ergonomics;
- require an ergonomic evaluation, and be performed by a person competent in ergonomic-related issues;
- have the issue of a trigger mechanism be part of the public debate, as the goal of any DOL/OSHA standard is to prevent injury, illness, and fatality, and not allow an incident to take place before eliminating hazards;
- emphasis should be placed on improvement versus overly detailed specifications; and
- be created through private/public sector partnerships, such as the negotiated rulemaking process, or the multiple stakeholders input process as exemplified by metalworking fluids or the proposed silica rulemaking.
"If OSHA develops a stand-alone ergonomic standard, it needs to be supported by a cohesive outreach effort melding the resources of OSHA, business associations, professional societies and academia," said Greer. "Such a program can be supported by positive reinforcement actions such as penalty reductions for good faith efforts by employers and by granting tax credits for the creation/maintenance of an acceptable program."
Throughout the public forums, those testifying were asked to answer several questions including the question, "what is an ergonomic injury?"
Greer noted that this situation is similar to the one at the end of the movie the "Field of Dreams" where a ball field is built in an Iowa cornfield with the mythical promise that "if you build it they will come."
"In some ways the ending of the film is almost identical to what is happening here," Greer said. "Instead of a line of cars coming to the field to play ball at the end of the movie, we now have thousands of safety, health and environmental professionals lining up in the bullpen trying to get their definitions up on the pitchers' mound."
Greer stated that the best definition of an ergonomic injury comes from the publication edited by Richard Lack and published by ASSE, "The Dictionary of Terms Used in the Safety Profession," which is that an ergonomic disorder "is any musculoskeletal or nervous system disorder affecting a person's upper or lower extremities or lower torso. Such a disorder may be caused or aggravated by repetitive motions, forceful exertions, vibration, sustained or awkward positions, or compression of a hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, neck, back, or leg over an extended period."
In closing, Greer noted that ASSE looks forward to working with Chao, Congress, OSHA and all interested parties to craft new ergonomic initiatives that will protect workers without adding unnecessary regulatory requirements.
In testimony and comments filed over the past couple of years on this issue, ASSE has urged members of Congress, regulators and the administration to focus on delivering a stand-alone ergonomic standard aimed at helping workers and providing businesses with the tools to properly implement it.
These comments were based on widespread member consensus representing good science and sound technology, according to ASSE. In addition, ASSE was the only professional group in the United States to offer a counter-proposal draft standard to OSHA in early 2000.
Edited by Virginia Sutcliffe