Ergonomics Has 'Bewildered' OSHA, Says Attorney

June 7, 2000
OSHA's experience in litigating ergonomics hazards suggests the\r\nagency finds it "rather bewildering" to interpret the link between\r\nworkplace exposure and musculoskeletal disorders, according to a Washington, D.C., attorney.

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OSHA''s experience in litigating ergonomics hazards suggests the agency finds it "rather bewildering" to interpret the link between workplace exposure and musculoskeletal disorders, according to an article by Eugene Scalia, a management attorney with a the Washington, D.C., firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

In the article, "OSHA''s Ergonomics Litigation Record: Three Strikes and It''s Out," Scalia pointed to three cases in which OSHA found it difficult to determine the exact hazards employees faced in the cited workplaces an failed to provide a clear plan to correct the alleged hazards.

In one, the 1995 Beverly Enterprises case, OSHA could not establish that lifting causes back injury.

In the second, the 1998 Dayton Tire case, OSHA charged that nearly two dozen jobs in a single facility were hazardous but at trial could not establish the presence of a single hazard.

Scalia said OSHA''s "experts" in the case repeatedly disagreed with one another''s assessments of supposed job hazards; ultimately, their own testimony was thrown out of court under the Supreme Court''s "junk science" test.

In a third case, the 1997 Peppridge Farm case, OSHA and the world''s leading ergonomists could not identify changes needed to eliminate supposed ergonomics hazards, according to Scalia. The Occupational Safety and Review Commission ruled that Peppridge Farm had a good ergonomics program, but OSHA and its experts had simply not been able to tell.

According to Scalia, this track record exemplifies why OSHA should abandon its current regulatory approach to ergonomics.

"Employers should not be commanded to make scientific determinations that consistently have eluded OSHA," said Scalia.

Determining the causes of musculoskeletal disorders and how to prevent them is a task that has thus far eluded many ergonomists, according to Scalia, and the same confusion is evident throughout the text of OSHA''s ergonomics proposal, which is set for final action later this year.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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