Election outcome increases likelihood of stronger OSHA, ergo standard
Many ergonomics experts believe lawmakers will take steps to strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and resurrect the failed Clinton administration standard to regulate workplace exposure to musculoskeletal disorders.
"The economy is the number one thing on people's minds," said Cindy Roth, CEO of Ergonomics Technologies Corp. in Syosset, N.Y. "I think ergonomics can play a role in helping maintain financial credibility of any company. It would be nice if we didn't have to legislate it and that people would recognize that ergonomics equals economics. However, that hasn't happened."
Roth said there have been whispers within the Washington, D.C., community about the possibility of new ergonomics regulation. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted an ergonomics forum. According to the chamber, the meeting served as a jumping off point to reform the National Coalition on Ergonomics, a pro-business lobbyist organization that helped challenge and take down the Clinton administration's federal ergonomics standard in 2001. The group said that attempts to regulate ergonomics has been "kept in check" by Republican congressional majorities in recent years. However, the tide appears to be shifting, and chamber officials believe ergonomics will become a hot-button issue.
Peg Seminario, director of safety and health for the AFL-CIO, said that despite support for new regulation, lawmakers may face an uphill battle. To overturn the Clinton standard, the Bush administration utilized the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to review every new federal regulation issued by the government agencies and, by passage of a joint resolution, overrule a regulation.
"Because the act was used, Congress would be required to expressly authorize any new regulation," she said. "We don't have a lot of history or experience in dealing with that. The legislation would need to be looked at very closely before lawmakers could move forward."
Seminario said that even though musculoskeletal disorders remain a pressing concern, the labor organization would like to see improvements with OSHA.
"We would like to see OSHA getting back into the business of being a strong leader in safety and health," she said. "The agency must realize that its mission is to protect workers, not make cooperative arrangements with employers."
Roth said the previous ergonomics standard will have to be altered so that it is workable for businesses. However, employers who have an ergonomics process in place shouldn't be worried about regulation, she said.
"We have a fear of the unknown," she said. "However, if an employer has a process that is working, they will most likely be grandfathered in. The standard must make sense for employers and give them an understanding that it will save them, rather than cost them, money."
Group looks forward to working with new administration. The American Society of Safety Engineers said it expects that, with President-elect Obama's leadership, "creative and meaningful ways to confront long-standing occupational safety and health issues can be achieved by encouraging the entire safety and health community to work together to achieve safer and healthier workplaces across the nation."
ASSE President Warren K. Brown said the group looks forward to working with an Obama administration and Congress to help shape an agenda for occupational safety and health that can reflect the experience and expertise of its 32,000 members.
"We fully support President-elect Obama in saying that this is not the time to fall back on the same partisanship, which, as in other issues facing this nation, has marked the occupational safety and health debate in recent years," he said.
December 1, 2008
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