Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Anti-Ergonauts on the Rampage Again

Michigan Republicans Vow to Cut Off Funding for Ergo Standard

Vowing to stomp out any hint of an ergonomic standard like it was a toxic weed, the Republicans in the Michigan state legislature are preparing to pass legislation cutting off funding for MIOSHA's work on an ergonomics standard. As I wrote previously,
In 2002, Michigan OSHA formed a steering committee to develop a framework for addressing an ergonomics rule and appointed members to the Ergonomics Standard Advisory Committee from management, labor and the public. Around half of the states run their own OSHA program and are able to issue their own workplace safety standard. Currently, California is the only state with an ergonomics standard. Washington state's was repealed last year.

After three meetings, Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business resigned from the Ergonomics Standard Advisory Committee because, he said, he realized that the mission of the committee was to develop a standard. Owens said that he had been under the impression that the purpose of the committee was to determine if a standard was needed. National NFIB was one of the most active business associations behind the repeal of the federal ergonomics standard in 2001.
According to Inside OSHA,
Within a week, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Shulman (R-Oakland) will move to insert
language into the state’s fiscal year 2005 budget that will express the intent of the Legislature that no funds allocated to MIOSHA be used to promote development of an ergonomics standard. Shulman told Inside OSHA, “We [Republican lawmakers] have been informed that it [regulating ergonomics] just doesn’t seem like it is an economically feasible issue.”
Even though MIOSHA hasn't even yet issued a rough draft of a regulation, Shulman claims that early action is needed to protect workers' jobs: "When everyone is talking about jobs, jobs, jobs, we have to keep jobs in Michigan."

Now, this job blackmail attack is older than Adam Smith, and in times of high unemployment, it's particularly effective, as we have seen in Washington State. Of course, students of recent history may remember that Republican attacks on the federal ergonomics standard reached their zenith during the boom times of the Clinton administration. High unemployment, low unemployment. I guess no season is good for an ergonomics standard.

Even without Republican obstructionism, the standard faces a number of hurdles
The advisory committee is composed of an equal number of business and labor representatives, plus a public representative. Assuming it can reach agreement on a new rule, it would undergo a number of public hearings and would have to be approved by the two state standards commissions. In order to merit approval, the commissions must certify there is a "clear and convincing need" for the rule.

Finally, the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform must sign off on the rule.
But hey. No point in putting everyone through all that pain. Might as well put it out of its misery now.