Ergo Experts Expect Little from Advisory Committee

Dec. 10, 2002
After OSHA named 15 persons to serve on its National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) an informal poll of experts in the field revealed little dissatisfaction with the quality of those selected but much concern about the effectiveness of the committee.

But the very fact that NACE has such an ambitious agenda and that so many points of view are represented means it will accomplish little, according to Franz Schneider, CEO of Humantech Inc., a provider of ergonomic consulting services.

"The committee is a group of excellent voices that is so well balanced, they will cancel each other out and the human ear will never hear a word they say," commented Schneider.

Asked what he expected from the committee, Schneider replied, "I expect them to meet a lot."

A well-balanced committee is precisely what OSHA Administrator John Henshaw wanted. "We asked for nominees from varied backgrounds, that's just what we got."

The group is not balanced at all, according to Deborah Weinstock, an occupational health and safety specialist at the AFL-CIO. "For the first time in OSHA's history a national advisory committee does not have equal numbers of employer and employee representatives," she said. "It's appalling how the committee is stacked with corporate America's pets. This weakens its credibility."

Also striking for Weinstock is the fact that although many AFL-CIO unions, such as the United Auto Workers, have a proven track record working with employers to establish successful ergonomics programs, none were chosen for NACE.

OSHA has charged NACE to meet two to four time annually for two years to help with the agency's "four-pronged" ergonomics program: industry guidelines, research, outreach and enforcement.

"If they were to focus on one of the 'prongs' they might get somewhere," said Schneider. "But you'll get nothing from 15 people with the panorama of these topics."

OSHA appears to be helping to narrow the focus of NACE. The agenda of the committee's first meeting includes only three of the four prongs, according to an agency press release. Helping OSHA do a better job at enforcing ergonomic hazards was the prong not mentioned, despite the fact that in the nine months since the ergonomics program was announced, the agency has not initiated a single enforcement action.

Gayla McCluskey, president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association had a more upbeat assessment of NACE. "We are pleased that qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced AIHA members in the field of ergonomics are a part of the team," she said.

"I don't see much of anything getting done - I think that's the general attitude out there," said James McGlothlin, associate professor of ergonomics at Purdue University's School of Health Sciences. McGlothlin also worked at NIOSH for 22 years. "I intend no disrespect to the committee, but I think it's just another way of foot-dragging."

Many ergonomists rejected the notion that more research was necessary, or that it would do any good, pointing to numerous studies completed by NIOSH, the National Academy of Sciences and others.

The real challenge in ergonomics, according to Schneider, has little to do with NACE's charter. "We know what we need to do to address ergonomic problems," he said. "The real challenge is how do we get more people to do it when many American companies are rocketing into the 1920's."

For a complete list of the membership of NACE, see the article "Chao Names 15 to National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics" at http://www.occupationalhazards.com/full_story.php?WID=5229www.occupationalhazards.com/full_story.php?WID=5229.

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