OH.com Exclusive Series: OSHA, Ergonomic Guidelines and Expert Opinions: M. Franz Schneider

In this series of articles exclusive to the Web, OH.com asks leading ergonomic experts what they think about OSHA's voluntary ergonomic guidelines and the course of action they'd like to see the agency take.

In this series of articles exclusive to the Web, OH.com asks leading ergonomic experts what they think about OSHA''s voluntary ergonomic guidelines and the course of action they''d like to see the agency take.

M. Franz Schneider: An announcement to plan for a plan.

"What do I think about OSHA''s voluntary ergonomic guidelines?" asks M. Franz Schneider, B.Sc., M.Sc., DSL, CPE, a consultant and ergonomic engineer and CEO of Humantech Inc. "I think it''s an announcement to plan for a plan. How do you spell yawn?"

Obviously, Schneider doesn''t mince words when it comes to OSHA''s "plan for a plan."

"If you are a troubled organization, voluntary guidelines will not help you see the light. If you are an organization actively pursuing the health and welfare of your employees, and the core competencies [of safety] are part of the structure of your business, then you''re doing the right things already and guidelines won''t really make a difference," he insists.

Schneider, quoting OSHA Administrator John Henshaw who said enforcement efforts would be focused on "bad actors," notes in many cases, it takes OSHA a very long time to bring "bad actors" to heel.

Schneider likens the guidelines and OSHA''s enforcement plan to a speedtrap. "This will be moderately random and maybe OSHA will catch some of the ''bad actors'' but not in any way that will have a speedy impact on injuries and illnesses," he says.

He mentions specifically the case of Beverly Enterprises Inc., which is one of the nation''s largest nursing home operators. OSHA announced Jan. 15 that Beverly Enterprises would adopt specific measures to reduce back injuries for employees involved in lifting nursing home residents as part of a settlement agreement. The company also agreed to establish a training program and purchase mechanical lift equipment.

"They were cited in 1992, settled in 2002, and they have five years to comply," says Schneider. "Is 15 years a speedy way to handle bad actors? And how is OSHA going to go after these bad actors when there are 64 less people in enforcement and the enforcement budget is reduced by $4 million?"

The plan leaves smaller companies confused - "Am I required to do this? How should I do this" - and targets some industries that are already under fire and struggling, says Schneider. Nursing homes, the first industry OSHA says it will target via industry-specific guidelines, "are struggling to recruit workers, to keep afloat, and they find themselves the target of guidelines [and probably] enforcement efforts," Schneider points out.

According to him, the four-pronged approach announced by OSHA to target ergonomic injuries - guidelines, enforcement, compliance assistance and research - won''t work. He claims voluntary guidelines, such as those found in the red meat industry, have not succeeded; enforcement is dicey due to cutbacks; and compliance assistance only works if companies ask for help. As for research, Schneider questions how much more is necessary for OSHA to finally admit that ergonomics programs, when well structured and managed, have an impact on reducing musculoskeletal injuries.

"If you don''t want to believe something, you question the science," says Schneider. "Look at the end result. Is there a reduction in musculoskeletal disorders? A reduction in discomfort among employees? Is there increased quality of work life and increased production? When a company can reduce lost-time injuries by 80 percent [by applying ergonomic principles], that''s not junk science. That''s excellence."

Schneider says his numbers come from the results experienced by Humantech clients. Humantech is a full-service human performance consulting firm specializing in occupational ergonomics engineering since 1979. "We''ve had 25 years of success over all kinds of industries," he says. "How can you not believe ergonomics works?"

He believes that the industries resisting ergonomics in the workplace "are the same ones resisting almost every aspect of human rights. They hire a disproportionate number of illegal aliens, have a disproportionate number of safety hazards, and are the source of a disproportionate amount of effluent releases." Their resistance to an ergonomic standard, adds Schneider, "is a reflection of their Darth Vader karma. A typical, low-brow, Jerry Springer-type of reaction."

He says that whenever he hears anyone belittling the idea of ergonomics, he mentions the use of the principles of biomechanics - the same ones used to develop ergonomic equipment and solutions for the workplace - and their application to sporting equipment. "We are shattering world records," notes Schneider. "You can''t tell me it doesn''t work."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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