Employers Critique, Labor Defends OSHA's Ergonomics Effort

Worries over OSHA's more robust enforcement policy prompted a major retail grocery industry association to call for "considerable revisions" to OSHA's draft of ergonomic guidelines for retail grocery stores at a public meeting held Oct. 2 in Washington, DC.

At the same meeting, labor representative Jackie Nowell rejected what she called industry "pushback" against OSHA's enforcement actions and the voluntary guidelines. "I'm finding myself in the strange position of having to defend something I really don't think is going to work," declared Nowell, the director of safety and health for the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Nowell, along with most labor representatives, prefer an ergonomic standard to the agency's current voluntary program. She reminded employers that after they succeeded in revoking the ergonomics standard, they supported OSHA's guidelines approach.

Eric Nicoll, director of government relations for the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), asserted that his organization is not opposed to guidelines, but his organization is calling for major revisions to the current draft guidelines and fears OSHA will use ergonomic guidelines to cite member companies under the General Duty Clause.

In written comments submitted to OSHA, FMI urged Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao "to conduct a comprehensive review of OSHA's enforcement program…and consider what steps may be taken to ensure that industries making good-faith efforts to cooperate with OSHA do not become targets for unwarranted enforcement actions."

The call for Chao to review OSHA's ergonomics enforcement effort was too much for Nowell, who called it "over-the-top."

FMI complained its members are alarmed that the first industry to work with OSHA on ergonomic guidelines (nursing homes) was also the first industry to be targeted with enforcement actions. Moreover, FMI argued the abatement suggestions contained in the nursing home citations "appear to closely reflect the information contained in the final nursing home guidelines."

In addition to enforcement concerns, Nicoll said FMI wants the guidelines to focus more on clear problems and proven solutions, and less on "formal, bureaucratic ergonomic processes and programs." He also called on OSHA to shorten the document to make it more user friendly.

Nowell said she worried that employer acceptance of OSHA's guidelines may be hurt if FMI continues its critical attitude, as many retail chains could follow the association's lead.

OSHA's Jim Maddux, an official in the agency's directorate of standards and guidance who presided at the meeting, said OSHA expects to complete work on the final version of guidelines for retail grocery stores by the end of the year.

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