OSHA's Swanson: Mandatory Ergonomics Standard Unlikely

OSHA will probably provide some outreach and educational programs for ergonomics, said Bruce Swanson, director of OSHA's Directorate on Construction Safety and Standards, but there probably will not be a mandatory standard.

It is unlikely that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will develop a mandatory ergonomics standard, Bruce Swanson, the director of the OSHA Directorate on Construction Safety and Standards, told attendees at the American Society of Safety Engineers'' Construction Safety Symposium in New Orleans yesterday.

"I believe ergonomics will be recognized as a real life problem and that employers and safety professionals alike will work together in seeking remedies and reducing the risk," Swanson said.

"OSHA will probably provide some outreach and educational programs. There probably will not be a mandatory standard," he added.

Swanson said that perhaps this December or January, the Department of Labor might come out with guidance on the issue. He also noted, as did many presenters at the symposium, that ergonomics is an issue in the construction industry.

Swanson said that there is a clear emphasis by today''s OSHA to increase workplace safety by working directly with employers by providing safety knowledge and education rather than putting an emphasis on issuing citations.

"I am happy to report today that there has been a decrease in construction industry fatalities," Swanson said. "While employment in this industry continues to increase, fatalities have dropped. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 1999 there were a total of 1,190 construction industry fatalities, while in 2000 there were 1,154."

In response to an audience question on the status of an ergonomics standard, Swanson revealed that before Sept. 11, OSHA was about to announce their next steps on the ergonomic standard. However, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, much of their focus has been on New York City and the relief and rebuilding efforts.

"We lost an office in New York City due to the attacks," Swanson said. "Luckily we did not lose any employees in that horrible tragedy. However, we have a large contingent of OSHA personnel working shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Ground Zero. We have reached out to members of professional organizations such as ASSE for volunteers to help in this process with many people stepping forward and have a new found need for anthrax experts."

Swanson noted that OSHA, now led by the new Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA John Henshaw, will be focusing on leadership; strong and fair enforcement; outreach, education and compliance assistance; partnerships and improving data collection.

Other presenters told attendees that proper training, identifying and reducing hazards, partnering with OSHA national and regional officials, implementing and strengthening effective safety programs, and sharing profits with employees have all contributed to reducing injuries and fatalities.

With falls being the number two cause of death in the workplace, construction professionals learned new insight into developing a good fall protection system from many of the presenters. It was noted that sometimes a fall is due to an unstable structure and that it is important to keep and look at the accident data. Daniel M. Paine, president of Innovative Safety Devices out of Glastonbury, Ct., and an ASSE member, stressed the importance of looking at fall protection as a management method and approach toward eliminating and preventing falls.

Tommy Lee, safety director of the W.S. Bellows Construction Corp. of Houston, Tex., and Texas OSHA Regional Administrator John B. Miles noted in their presentation on Texas'' successful OSHA Construction Partnership that in the last year, construction fatalities in Houston have been reduced by 50 percent. "One of the reasons for this success is that the executives of our own companies are actively involved in making sure that we continue being a partner," Lee said. "We''ve also seen strong support for this program from contractors and unions alike. Most people know that safety just makes good business sense."

Miles said that Henshaw met with some 40 regional administrators last week and told them that he would like to see partnerships such as the one that''s been developed in Texas expanded throughout the country.

Other topics on the two-day symposium schedule include crane safety, an update on the new OSHA steel erection standard due to go into affect Jan. 18, 2002, preparing for confined space emergencies, OSHA recordkeeping, understanding Owner Controlled Insurance Programs (OCIP), and a panel discussion on construction safety.

For more information check ASSE''s web site at www.asse.org.

by Sandy Smith

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