Thursday, October 16, 2003

Ergo Barbarians Pillage ANSI Ergonomics Standard

The foes of ergonomic protections for workers often remind me of the Barbarian hordes early in the first part of the last millennium.

You know, behead the men, rape the women, enslave the children, burn the village, mow down the crops and then sow the earth with salt. Kill the farm animals and throw them down the wells. And eat their pets.

First, they repeal the federal OSHA standard. When they fail to pass legislation to kill the Washington state standard, they try and fail to convince the courts to kill the standard. Now they're trying to kill the standard with a referendum.

Hmm, did we miss anything? Curses, there's that pesky ANSI standard. Shoot it, stab it, then strangle it and drown it. Make it swim with the fishes.

Since 1990, a committee sponsored by the National Safety Council has been attempting to adopt a "consensus" standard on upper extremity musculoskeletal injuries. Now, after 13 years, the ANSI “Z365” committee is close to finalizing an ergonomics standard.

But not so fast, in response to an appeal from the same ergonomic foes that pushed the assassination of the federal standard, ANSI handed down a decision that both labor and industry spokespersons say will ultimately kill the standard.

I'm really to tired to go into all the details (That's "tired" as in "tired of," as opposed to sleepy tired.)

So this is it in a nutshell:

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) issues voluntary "consensus" standards on a variety of health and safety issues. Industry safety people get together with union safety people, along with a few academics, and they hammer something out that is satisfactory to all parties.

Because they're "consensus" standards, they often aren't as tough as OSHA standards, but because these aren't mandatory government regulations, they can usually work much faster than OSHA, with less political interference. That is, until the ergo barbarians got them in their sites.

See, the ergo Barbarians want no trace of ergonomics left upon this earth. Even a seedling could a giant standard grow. If they could, they'd probably wipe all reference to the Clinton administration's standard from the history books.

But I digress....Where was I?

Oh yes, ANSI doesn't develop the standards themselves. They appoint a "secretariat" that puts together a committee that writes the standard. In this case, the National Safety Council is the secretariat.

The committee, which only addresses upper extremity injuries (not back injuries) has been making steady, but slow progress for over a decade. Last year, they had a final draft and asked for final comments. This was too much for the ergo Barbarians who filled an appeal with ANSI, questioning whether NSC was an appropriate secretariat, due to a number of stupid procedural red herrings issues similar to the procedural red herrings issues made against the federal OSHA standard.

I won't even go into the details of ANSI's decision, but basically they placed a number of burdensome and expensive hurdles on NSC. NSC, not the most worker-oriented organization, has been looking for an excuse to dump the costly, never-ending, and politically controversial hot potato standard for a number of years. Both industry and labor sources agree that ANSI may have given them the reason:

Randy Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was "pleasantly surprised" by ANSI's decision.

The AFL-CIO's Bill Kojola argues that "ANSI has basically caved into the rantings and ravings of the National Coalition on Ergonomics."

If anyone really wants the gory details of the ANSI decision, you can find it here. But I wouldn't bother. Go rent some movie about Genghis Khan instead. You'll get the basic idea.