Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Hear No Evil…..

Of course you don’t have to worry about whether those pesky regulations designed to keep workers from being injured are good or bad for the economy if you don’t see any injuries in the first place.

The Washington Post’s regulatory columnist, Cindy Skrzycki describes OSHA’s new recordkeeping form and how it seems to be missing a column for musculoskeletal injuries.

This is as business/Republican dream come true. Sure, they could make the federal ergonomics standard go away. They can get away with wimpy enforcement. But those pesky ergonomic injuries kept accounting for one-third of all injuries and illnesses year after year. So what to do? Make it has hard to count them as possible. Presto Chango, problem solved.

But no. The business community says the numbers will go down because it’s suddenly because of their good deeds:
They argue that the incidence of such injuries is declining because of voluntary actions taken by employers. They insist there is no agreed-upon definition of an ergonomics injury; hence, they are uncountable.
"No one could agree on a definition, so how could you have a separate recording column on it?" said Randel Johnson, vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits at the chamber. "There is no agreed-upon scientific definition. They made the right decision."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics differs.
The bureau uses the same definition to count days away from work caused by such injuries as the Clinton recordkeeoping rule would have used: A musculoskeletal disorder is “an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints and cartilage and spinal discs.”

Including that definition in an official OSHA rule would have supplied some of the answers tin a longstanding unresolved debate. What exactly is a musculoskeletal disorder and how does one prove it is work-related? It may have also made it easier for the agency to cite employers for an unsafe workplace due to problems with ergonomics.
And that was the problem. Even though their on course to sweep the problem under the rug, their still having fits about OSHA’s feeble enforcement effort, as I’ve written about before (scroll down).
Business groups have monitored closely and worried about OSHA's approach to ergonomic problems ….. The agency has issued 11 citations, but the penalties in those cases have been small. It also has issued or proposed guidelines for several industries to follow, but these are not mandatory, and the agency can't enforce them. It did create a National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics to study the issue.
So ergonomics situation in the American workplace may soon look better – on paper. But to nurses and poultry processing workers life will only get worse. More pain. More disability. More careers ended. Only no one will notice.

If a worker falls to an ergonomics injury, but no one counts it, did it really happen?