Insurance Industry Wants Multifaceted Approach to Ergonomics

July 18, 2001
The Alliance of American Insurers is\r\nproposing to OSHA a mix of public policy approaches to ergonomics that\r\nemphasize voluntary initiatives.

Stressing the need for the federal government to address ergonomics injuries in the workplace in an effective and cost efficient manner, the Alliance of American Insurers (AAI) is proposing a mix of public policy approaches to ergonomics that emphasize voluntary initiatives.

"Insurers are keenly interested in the approach the federal government takes to address musculoskeletal disorders because we, as an industry, have more than nine decades of experience in encouraging employers to set up meaningful safety programs," said Keith Lessner, AAI vice president of safety and environmental in testimony submitted to OSHA. "While there are many things not known about repetitive motion injuries and their cause, what is known is sufficient to build a workable public policy around, as long as it isn''t too broad or inflexible. One size won''t fit all, and sound ergonomics policy must be able to evolve as more becomes known."

AAI proposes using an array of public policy tools that reflect an understanding of how employers make business decisions and takes advantage of that process.

"This type of approach will generate employer commitment, thereby maximizing results and minimizing compliance expenditures," Lessner said. This best can be accomplished by emphasizing voluntary compliance. The Alliance believes that fully 80-90 percent of employers can be made to see the wisdom of ''doing the right thing'' voluntarily out of blatant self-interest."

Lessner suggested that the government help facilitate the decision employers face.

"Employers need help identifying whether or not their place of employment has a problem with injuries and what effect an ergonomics safety program could have on that problem," noted Lessner. "The employer can then weigh all the options and determine the most efficient and effective solution."

Lessner acknowledges that there are some recalcitrant employers that must be coerced, and for them, a mandatory approach is the only answer.

"However, the number of these employers is small and the compliance programs directed at them should be narrow, focusing on their specific situations," said Lessner.

In addition to authoring the Alliance''s written comments, Lessner will give oral testimony Friday in Chicago at the second of three public hearings organized by OSHA on the ergonomics issue.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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