ASSE: Is the Wolf Guarding the Chicken Coop?

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw used the American Society of Safety Engineers Professional Development Conference in Nashville to announce that retail grocery stores and the poultry processing industry will receive the next set of industry-specific ergonomic guidelines.

"The number of ergonomic-related injuries suffered by workers in the retail grocery store industry continues to rank near the top of the list," said Henshaw at a press conference at the ASSE conference. "While the rates in poultry processing aren't as high, workers still suffer from too many upper extremity disorders, such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome."

Several people wondered though, whether his announcement that several stakeholders in the retail and poultry processing industry agreed to work with OSHA to develop the guidelines meant the wolf was guarding the henhouse.

"Hasn't the poultry industry been cited a number of times for ergonomic-related violations?" asked one ASSE attendee. "Wouldn't they have done something on their own by now to reduce those injuries if they were serious about it?"

Mike Klun, chairman of the poultry industry's Joint Safety and Health Committee, said his group is pleased to work with OSHA to develop the guidelines, adding, "The poultry has extensive experience in ergonomics, and many companies already have guidelines in place. We can contribute the lessons we have learned in how to avoid ergonomic problems and how to deal with them when they occur.

He said a voluntary guideline "offers employers and employees the flexibility to address ergonomic issues in the workplace in a cooperative, nonadversarial and nonjudgmental way."

Tom Zaucha, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association (NGA) echoed those thoughts, saying his organization "has consistently found that voluntary collaborative efforts between government and the private sector are far more workable than costly and burdensome mandates."

Although ASSE itself supports the idea of a mandatory ergonomic standard rather than guidelines, ASSE's president Eddie Greer said that in today's political climate, his group supports OSHA's efforts to move ahead on this issue with industry-specific guidelines.

"Reducing workplace ergonomic injuries is too important. We must move forward," Greer insisted earlier today. "For that reason it is important for Henshaw to talk, as he did today, with safety professionals who will be responsible for implementing these guidelines. We look forward to establishing a partnership with OSHA to provide educational opportunities to implement the guidelines as the process continues to move forward."

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