As the public comment period on OSHA's proposed ergonomics standard draws near, several business organizations are rallying their opposing opinions.
Calling the proposed ergonomics standard a "massive set of requirements that will affect any office, if not every workplace, with employees who use any muscle to perform their jobs," the Center for Office Technology (COT) said the standard was "beyond tinkering with and needed to go back to the drawing board.
"With this rule OSHA expects employers to try and eliminate any muscle ache or pain in the workforce by seeking solutions that are not yet available but may be on the horizon," according to a COT statement.
In its comments to OSHA, COT wrote, "This rule ignores varying physical capabilities and conditions among employees and does not recognize any distinction between work and non-work activities, even going as far as to bar healthcare professionals treating employees from revealing to employers outside activities that may be causing musculoskeletal disorders (MSD)."
According to P.J. Edington, COT executive director, "this standard requires employers to place ergonomics above other elements of a comprehensive safety and health program taking from employers the ability and flexibility to prioritize their most significant safety and health concerns."
Additionally, Edington pointed out that by creating a dual work program where higher protections and benefits are provided for MSD injuries, not only will there be an incentive for reporting MSDs but there will be an incentive for creating MSDs.
Although OSHA said its standard would be limited to those industries where the problems are severe, COT said it has instead decided to include all of general industry, placing an unnecessary regulatory burden on industries that do not have significant MSD issues.
"This will be keenly felt in the office sector," said Edington, "where the injury rate is extremely low -- just 0.6 percent of the total reported injuries and illnesses in 1997 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)."
COT believes that examples given throughout the standard preamble would lead employers to believe that OSHA expects those in the office industry to eliminate ergonomic hazards by supplying adjustable workstations and voice-activated computers for all employees.
Edington it is surprising that OSHA predicts that "all these never ending new technology fixes just on the horizon" are only going to cost an employer $700 per year per facility.
"Apparently OSHA has not gone shopping for ergonomic chairs lately or priced keyboard trays, sit/stand desks or automated lifts," said Edington.
Edington also noted that the standard is addressing a problem that is already declining as a result of voluntary programs being instituted by employers.
During the last four years, the number of repeated trauma cases has decreased by 24 percent, accord to the BLS.
"It does seem that OSHA should demonstrate that the proposed rule would achieve greater reductions in injuries than what is already being accomplished," said Edington.
The COT is a national association of employers and manufacturers dedicated to improving the office working environment and promoting informed approaches to comfort associated with computers and office technology.
A full copy of COT's comments on the proposed ergonomics standard can be obtained on its Web site at www.cot.org