Quarrel Deepens Between OSHA Head and Business Group

Aug. 5, 1999
It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

A July 21 meeting, that was intended to improve dialogue between OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress and the National Association Manufacturers (NAM), has led to a public row over ergonomics policy. Jeffress refused last week to apologize for statements the business group claims distorted the tone and content of the meeting.

In a letter to Jeffress, NAM Vice President Patrick Cleary wrote that he and the others present at the meeting felt its tone was constructive and positive from start to finish. Cleary charged that immediately after the meeting, Jeffress posted "prepared remarks" and a press release on the OSHA website that twisted what actually happened. According to Cleary, Jeffress used the website and press release to put his own "spin" on the meeting.

Calling this behavior "unbecoming" for an OSHA administrator, Cleary's letter concluded: "We feel an apology is in order if we are to continue a relationship of trust and working toward our mutual goal of achieving a safer and healthier workplace."

At the center of the dispute is NAM's policy on ergonomics. In the speech that appeared on the Internet, Jeffress charged the industry group with fighting against proposed ergonomics regulation, despite evidence that work-related musculoskeletal disorders are a serious problem. Jeffress said an ergonomics standard was a top priority for him, and he called on NAM to "adopt a more reasonable position on ergonomics."

In a letter last week to NAM, Jeffress insisted that the speech on the Internet is consistent with the speech he actually gave. "When I spoke to NAM on July 21," Jeffress wrote, "I challenged you to work with OSHA to develop a good ergonomics standard instead of putting all your energies into opposing a rule."

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