Plastics Industry Urges 'Flexibility' in ErgonomicsInitiatives

The Society of the Plastics Industry is urging OSHA to seek\r\nergonomics solutions that are based in government-supported research\r\nand outreach rather than "command-and-control regulation."

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) is urging OSHA to seek ergonomics solutions that are based in government-supported research and outreach rather than "command-and-control regulation."

SPI is one of the many industry groups that was opposed to the previous ergonomics rule that was killed by Congress in March, deeming it unworkable and unreasonably expensive.

"SPI believes ergonomic principles are beneficial to both employers and employees in terms of productivity, worker comfort and worker safety, and should be a part of an employer''s comprehensive health and safety program," said Paul Appelblom, president of Jatco Inc., Union City, Calif., and vice chair of the Washington, D.C.-based trade association.

However, he added, applications of such principles, "should be based on sound science and accepted risk management practices."

Arguing that one-size-fits-all plans could be counterproductive and possibly even detrimental, said Appelblom, "Any initiative that addresses ergonomics, whether regulatory-driven or industry-driven, should provide each facility with the flexibility to develop and implement a process for managing workplace ergonomic hazards and musculoskeletal disorders tailored to the operations, activities, needs, people and culture of that facility."

Appelblom used his own company as an example of a smaller employer that has addressed the issue of ergonomics in a voluntary manner, based on its own work environment, with positive results.

The Jatco program, he said, incorporates "commonsense principles" that minimize potential for work-related musculoskeletal disorders with employee education, on-the-job verification of skills, openness to workers'' concerns and overall "trust and mutual cooperation in dealing with ergonomics issues."

Based on his company''s program and others like it, Appelblom said, "we believe the rescinded ergonomics rule would have undermined our workers'' compensation and managed care systems, our labor-management relations, our efforts to ensure workplace safety in a balanced and practical manner, our productivity and global competitiveness, and our quality of life."

Ergonomics is "one of the most complex issues in the area of occupational safety and health," asserted Appelblom, and "clearly, government-supported research and outreach efforts that would provide assistance to employers in advancing the use of ergonomic principles would be of tremendous assistance."

However, should OSHA shift away from outreach and toward government mandates, he said, "far greater concern must be given to avoiding programs that would undermine what is already working extremely well at places like Jatco."

by Virginia Foran

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