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Ergonomics Hearings End-- Now What?

OSHA is likely to change four major parts of the proposed\r\nergonomics standard, Administrator Charles Jeffress said in an\r\ninterview with Occupational Hazards.

OSHA is likely to change four major parts of the proposed ergonomics standard, Administrator Charles Jeffress said in a May 19 interview with Occupational Hazards.

Oral and written comments on the proposal have revealed there is widespread confusion over the grandfather clause, worker restriction provisions (WRP), when a company is in compliance, and the so-called "one incident trigger," so Jeffress said "we need to make some modifications" in these areas.

The 90-day post-hearing comment period is expected to run until Aug. 10, at which time the Office of Management and Budget will begin its review.

The head of OSHA confirmed he still expects a final rule before year''s end.

One new development that could complicate quick completion of the rule is OSHA''s May 22 decision to hold an informal hearing in July on the economic impact of the ergonomics standard on state and local governments, the United States Postal Service, and railroads.

Even though the ergonomics proposal includes these workers, OSHA''s original economic impact statement left them out, an oversight that did not sit well with Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment Safety and Training.

In a letter to Jeffress, Enzi said he was "shocked" at the error, and he demanded the agency postpone the July 7 hearing.

"It is preposterous," Enzi thundered, for OSHA to think it can complete a reasonable dialogue among stakeholders in less than two and a half months.

Both labor and industry are unhappy with the current one incident trigger. Union representatives object to requiring a worker to be hurt before a company is forced to institute an ergonomics program.

Industry fears that a single injury, perhaps unrelated to the workplace, may oblige them to spend tons of money to be in compliance with the rule.

Because the current trigger is tied to a recordable injury, in addition to displeasing stakeholders the provision has also slowed down the new recordkeeping rule. Jeffress seemed eager to find a way to break out of the box he is in, though it is not yet clear how he can do it.

"Maybe we should have some definition of what triggers the rule that would allow both for early intervention, but not peg it to a recordkeeping injury," he said.

Jeffress is now backing away from the "one incident trigger," calling it instead "the trigger event."

Whatever you call it, it is may well turn out to be the toughest issue to resolve in the controversial standard.

by James Nash

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