Ergonomics Rears its Ugly HeadThe Washington Post's "Regulator" column covers OSHA's recent grocery store ergonomics guidelines. Needless to say, labor has a problem with guidelines as a weaker alternative to the standard that was repealed by the Bush administration in 2001:
"They have gone to the lowest common denominator. It's a simplistic look at the whole issue," said Jackie Nowell, director of occupational safety and health for the food and commercial workers union.Even industry has problems with the guidelines, but for a different reason:
Peg Seminario, director of the AFL-CIO's department of occupational safety and health, said the guidelines are too general. "The problems and the controls are all mushed together," she said. "There is no sense of priority. It ignores that real problems are there. This is a dumbing down of the guidelines."
She said she preferred guidelines OSHA issued in 1990 for meatpacking plants, which were written by the regulators, the industry and the unions. Those were followed by a major enforcement effort that resulted in numerous cases that led to millions of dollars in penalties. Also at that time, the Labor Department announced it would begin work on a mandatory ergonomics standard.
Randel Johnson, vice president of labor issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, worries that even the draft assumes a definitive relationship between developing a musculoskeletal disorder and a particular job.Imagine thinking that there is a relationship between work and musculoskeletal problems! Bookmark this under "reasons NOT to re-elect Bush in 2004."
"These are only guidelines, but they can set a precedent for a regulation later because it will be taken as gospel when it has . . . the OSHA stamp of approval," he said. He added that the agency relied on anecdotal reports from stores about how they fixed ergonomic problems and left the impression that "there is more clarity to these issues than there really is."