Ergo Symposium Is Biased, Says Industry Group

Jan. 15, 2004
A symposium organized by OSHA's National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) that will be held later this month is "entirely inconsistent" with the announced goal of objectively reviewing data-driven ergonomics research, according to the National Coalition on Ergonomics (NCE), an industry association that has opposed many government-led efforts to address ergonomics.

In an odd twist, the research symposium has now been attacked both by prominent ergonomics researchers - worried it would rehash scientific questions they believe have been resolved - and by NCE, because the symposium will not be exploring precisely these sorts of questions.

In a Jan. 13 letter to NACE chair Carter Kerk, NCE complains that "rather than inviting a balanced panel of serious scientists," Kerk states he was asked by OSHA Administrator John Henshaw to look for research which "fits into a business case for ergonomics." NCE argues that the NACE charter calls for an unbiased examination of the science underlying ergonomics and believes the symposium must address "gaps in research in the search for sound science." Instead, the Jan. 27 meeting "looks only for a certain type of 'science' and seeks to establish how it makes sense to business."

NCE believes the symposium ought to address what it calls "the disputed theory that physical risk factors are a primary cause of musculoskeletal disorders," but complains that nearly all the panelists are instead advocates of the business case for ergonomics.

In a letter to Kerk last month, a group of eleven prominent ergonomics researchers refused to participate in the symposium because they worried the symposium would focus on "research topics already exhaustively reviewed."

Kerk later explained in an interview (See"Ergonomic Experts Shun NACE Ergo Symposium") that he shared the concern of these researchers that the symposium would debate whether these types of injuries exist or whether workplace ergonomic programs are effective. "But that's not what we're trying to do at all," he said.

In its letter to Kerk, NCE calls on NACE to reach out to medical researchers identified by the industry group and demands the symposium be delayed and reoriented toward "sound science." If NACE fails to heed this advice, NCE promised it would not attend the symposium and "would actively discourage others from doing so."

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