Michigan Business Community: Ergonomics Standard Will Lead to Job Losses

Sept. 15, 2009
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce recently praised the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) for its "Take a Stand Day" to provide one-on-one consultations with employers to identify ways to effectively address health and safety issues in the workplace, without fear of citations or fines. At the same time, the group took the opportunity to call a proposed ergonomics standard “harmful” to business.

"We are pleased that MIOSHA is willing to partner with Michigan job providers to help them improve the safety and health in work environments," said Wendy Block, director of Health Policy and Human Resources for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. "We agree with MIOSHA that having an effective system to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses is an important part of being successful in today's global economy."

That said, Block stated that job providers would be better served if MIOSHA and the Granholm administration redirected their energy on creating a healthy regulatory environment and halted promulgation of the proposed ergonomics standard.

The standard establishes the minimum requirements for all general industry employers that have employees with exposure to ergonomic hazards. These rules include the minimum requirements for awareness training and the process for assessing and responding to ergonomic occupational risk factors. The proposed rules do not apply to construction, agriculture, mining, domestic employment or work that falls under the jurisdiction of the federal railroad.

The proposed regulation defines “ergonomic hazards” as conditions where intervention may be necessary to prevent a musculoskeletal disorder. Such conditions can be identified by an assessment of ergonomic occupational risk factors and reports of signs and symptoms. “Ergonomics” means the practice of designing or modifying jobs, workplaces, equipment, work methods and tools to match the capabilities of the worker. “Ergonomic occupational risk factors” means characteristics of a work situation that may contribute to a musculoskeletal disorder. These risk factors may be characteristics of the workplace, tasks or individual work practices.

The proposed standard calls for all employees to be given ergonomic awareness training that covers ergonomic occupational risk factors; information about the signs/symptoms that indicate an ergonomic hazard may be present; and a process for reporting that an ergonomic hazard may be present. The training component also would provide a process for assessing and responding to ergonomic occupational risk factors, and would require that records to document training be kept.

"It is unfortunate that MIOSHA and the Granholm administration feel these cooperative efforts are not enough and continue to pursue harmful over-regulations of job providers that will severely injure Michigan's economic competitiveness," remarked Block.

The proposed ergonomics standard, which is a long way from completion at this point, also requires employers to establish and utilize an effective process that includes employee involvement, assessment of ergonomic occupational risk factors and the elimination, reduction or control of ergonomic hazards where economically and technically feasible.

“If the Granholm administration truly wants to provide assistance to job providers, they will take a stand against the proposed state ergonomics standard," said Jim Holcomb, vice president of Business Advocacy and Associate General Counsel for the Michigan Chamber, who added that the proposed regulatory mandate is “unclear, burdensome and likely to cost Michigan businesses – large and small – hundreds of millions of dollars and increase job losses across the state."

Noting that employers have a responsibility to provide their employees with a safe workplace," Holcomb commented, “We encourage MIOSHA to continue utilizing programs, such as ‘Take a Stand Day,’ to ensure that employers and employees are working together to improve job safety without damaging our economic climate.”

But, added Block, “We should not follow California as the only other state to impose a mandatory ergonomics rule.”

As previously stated, the process has been a slow one. On Aug. 25, 2008, the Ergonomics Standard Advisory Committee formally submitted their proposed minimum ergonomics standard to the General Industry Safety Standards Commission and the Occupational Health Standards Commission. On Jan. 14, the two commissions unanimously agreed to move the proposed standard forward for rule promulgation after including an exemption for the jurisdiction covered exclusively by the Federal Railroad Administration, removing a “grandfather” provision and incorporating a phase-in provision of 6 months after the final rule is filed with the secretary of state.

The Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth posted an “Invitation to Bid” for a third party to prepare portions of the regulatory impact statement (RIS) for the proposed ergonomics standard, and in May, the administrative board approved a contract to Ruth Ruttenberg and Associates (RRA) to prepare the information. (RRA was the only company to bid for the project.) MIOSHA staff will work with RRA to prepare the RIS. MIOSHA has not previously contracted with a third party for development of a RIS, but felt it was best to consult with experts in the field to collect and compile the potentially controversial data.

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