AIHA Supports Breaux Ergonomics Legislation

AIHA offers Sen. John Breaux (D, La.) its support for his recently introduced bill, which mandates the issuance of an ergonomics standard within two years.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) says it supports the underlying goal of Sen. John Breaux''s (D, La.) recently introduced bill, S. 2184. The bill mandates the issuance of an ergonomic standard.

Breaux says his revised ergonomics legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and 22 other senators, requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to reissue a rule to address work-related musculoskeletal disorders and workplace ergonomics hazards within two years, and would not apply to disorders that are not related to work.

"This two-year implementation period comes at the end of two decades of the federal government identifying an ergonomics problem, but creating no national policy to correct it," Breaux said when he introduced his bill. "I believe a federal regulation is not only warranted, but it is the only way to ensure our nation''s ergonomics problems are addressed."

The legislation also requires that any new federal labor rule clearly defines under what circumstances an employer is required to address ergonomic hazards and what standards will be used to measure the employers'' performance. These work-related injuries cause about one million Americans to lose time each year and cost businesses about $50 billion a year in lost productivity. The bill prohibits any new rule from expanding existing state workers'' compensation laws, and provides information, training materials and outreach programs to help both employers and employees comply with the new rule.

"AIHA is pleased with Sen. Breaux''s continued strong commitment to pursue a fair and effective ergonomics standard," said AIHA President Henry B. Lick, PhD, CIH, CSP, ROH. "AIHA maintains that the scientific evidence supports the need for comprehensive ergonomics programs to protect American workers against musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs)."

Lick said AIHA believes that a sound public policy base exists for the formulation of an effective ergonomics standard. However, because of the diverse nature of AIHA''s membership, as well as some concerns about certain parts of the standard, the association stopped short of lending its support for the standard previously issued by OSHA and overturned by Congress, said Lick.

Following the repeal of the standard by Congress, AIHA was supportive of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao in her stated commitment to take a "comprehensive approach" toward addressing the challenges surrounding ergonomics. Recently, OSHA announced its intent to develop industry-specific guidelines to address the issue of MSDs rather than propose a new standard. AIHA expects to be a participant in development of these guidelines as well as a participant in the expanded compliance assistance to be offered by OSHA.

"We were especially pleased with the administration recommendation for appropriations to conduct research into ergonomics and suggested that Breaux might consider adding this to the legislation," Lick commented.

"Whether by congressional mandate or through regulatory fiat, however, we feel that it is important that a new rulemaking process begin. Whether or not a new standard can be developed and issued within a two-year period is a concern and may perhaps be the most significant stumbling block to enacting the Breaux legislation," Lick said. "We would also suggest that Breaux consider including language that would assure a role for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in outreach, development of evaluation tools, and training."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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