Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Ergonomics Boycott, Continued

The Baltimore Sun has a good, indepth article on the boycott of OSHA's ergonomics research symposium. Meanwhile, the business types are escalating their attacks as well.

I've written previously about the boycott by the ergonomics experts, as well as the fits that the anti-ergonomics National Coalition on Ergonomics is having. The Baltimore Sun article quotes several of the ergonomics experts that are boycotting the conference.
"It's an incredible waste," said [Barbara] Silverstein, an epidemiologist who works for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

She's not the only scientist who feels that way: 11 of the country's leading ergonomists are boycotting the meeting, which begins tomorrow. They accuse the Bush administration of distorting science for political ends.
David Kohn, the author of the Sun article ties in other criticisms of Bush's science policies
This isn't the first time the Bush administration has angered the scientific community. Critics in several disciplines have accused the White House of censoring scientific reports that conflict with its policies, packing federal advisory committees with industry-friendly researchers and obstructing research that could lead to new or tougher regulations.
Could it be that the Bush Administration has some more suspicious motive behind this panel?
Under Bush, OSHA has focused on encouraging industry to create safer workplaces rather than on regulation. Critics suspect OSHA will use this week's symposium to further that agenda and conclude that the work-injury link is still too murky to warrant action.

"I think it's a political show, not a scientific meeting," said one boycotter, a university researcher who spoke on condition of anonymity, in part because he feared his federal grants might be denied. "It's using science in a very cynical way."
Read the rest.

Meanwhile, according to Inside OSHA, the anti-ergonomics National Coalition on Ergonomics (NCE) is accusing OSHA of stacking the panel with pro-ergonomics academics and scientists, making it into a pro-ergonomics pep rally. NACE is also accusing OSHA violating various administrative regulations because the agency allegedly accepted some proposals after the deadline published in the federal register -- a crime apparently far more serious running a worksite that causes back injuries. Seems OSHA just can't make anyone happy these days.

These guys are starting to become caricatures of themselves and its not worth staying up late to re-hash their idiocy. If you missed them, go back and read the two previous articles that I linked above. Meanwhile, I'll just re-quote my previous observation.
The moral of the story is, of course, that you can run from the truth, but you can't hide. Musculoskeletal disorders are a major workplace safety problem, and we know what to do about them. OSHA created its National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics and chose members who actually took their jobs seriously. They believed they were actually supposed to take a serious look at ergonomics, not just regurgitate the pre-digested anti-regulatory ideology of the business associations who have waged a very profitable decade-long war against workers who have had the gall to believe that OSHA should do the job that Congress gave it: protect American workers against workplace injuries and illnesses.
I'll give the unhappy NCE members one piece of free advice: get together with the Republican budget balancers, the small government wackos and the anti-immigration fanatics and go find a more pure Republican to run against George Bush. Where's Pat Buchanan when we need him?'

UPDATE: The Washington Post has also picked up on the story:
"We've had symposia on top of symposia followed by symposia, and all have arrived at the same conclusion . . . that there is a clear relationship between musculoskeletal disorders and physical loading in the workplace," said Robert Radwin, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

A business-backed panel has written to OSHA as well, saying the panelists at the symposium are too biased in the direction of supporting a "regulatory approach to ergonomics," said Randel Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employment benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He is co-chairman of the National Council on Ergonomics, which represents more than 250 private-sector trade groups.

"If OSHA decided to pull on the plug on the symposia, I don't think anyone would be upset," Johnson said in an interview.

In a letter to Carter J. Kerk, who is chairing the national advisory committee on ergonomics, Johnson said one panel included people who are "unabashed advocates" of what he called "the disputed theory that physical risk factors are a primary cause of musculoskeletal disorders."
"Unabashed advocates" of the "theory" that workplace conditions cause musculoskeletal disorders? Imagine thinking that lifting heavy patients all day might cause back injuries, or hanging thousands of live chickens above your head may cause shoulder or arm problems! Whatever are they thinking?
Pat [sic] Seminario, an AFL-CIO health and safety director, said business groups are raising questions about the scientific underpinnings of ergonomics research to avoid regulation of activity that causes injury.

"One of the tactics all along is cast doubt on the science, like the tobacco industry's efforts to question whether exposure to smoke causes cancer," Seminario said. "The industry line is being used to thwart any government action."
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.