Industry Group Steps Up Opposition to Michigan Ergonomic Rule

Convinced that Michigan's ergonomic standard advisory committee is committed to promulgating an ergonomics rule, the state's chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) has mounted a lobbying campaign to kill the proposal.

But a state ergonomics standard still faces many hurdles, according to MIOSHA Director Doug Kalinowski. "The real issue in drafting these rules is that they must be based on consensus," he asserted. "If there's polarization, it's very unlikely any rule will be finalized." The director also conceded that reaching consensus on an ergonomics standard would be a "challenge."

Two state rulemaking commissions have voted to establish the ergonomics advisory committee, and charged it to come up with a rule. The commissions gave the advisory committee guidelines to follow in drafting the rule, recommending, among other things, that the standard should:

  • Be performance-based, simple and user-friendly, and no more than eight pages long;
  • "Grandfather" companies with existing programs;
  • Use positive rather than negative language.

Charles Owens, state director for NFIB Michigan, resigned from the advisory committee after learning that the decision to try to promulgate a rule had already been made.

Owens said he testified against the proposed rule on March 9 before a Michigan House Appropriations Subcommittee. "We are working on boiler plate language in their budget that says they can't spend one dime on promulgating the rule."

According to Owens, policy makers in the legislature and the governor's office were unaware that an ergonomics standard was in the offing. "I would characterize their reaction to the rule at this point as irritated surprise," he said. But so far neither branch of government has come out against the proposal.

The loss of jobs in Michigan is a big issue, and opponents of an ergonomics rule are arguing it would exacerbate the situation. A similar argument was used successfully in a referendum that repealed Washington state's ergonomics standard.

The advisory committee is composed of an equal number of business and labor representatives, plus a public representative. Assuming it can reach agreement on a new rule, it would undergo a number of public hearings and would have to be approved by the two state standards commissions. In order to merit approval, the commissions must certify there is a "clear and convincing need" for the rule.

Finally, the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform must sign off on the rule. Owens said he is seeking to have this office declare in advance its opposition to an ergonomics rule, in order to short-circuit the process.

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