Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Ergo Battle in Michigan

You think gay marriage, weapons of mass destruction, and massive budget deficits are problems? Wait until you hear this one. Michigan OSHA may be considering an ergonomics standard!! Are you still on your feet?

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 Washington state's was repealed last year.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.

"At a time when Michigan is shedding manufacturing jobs by the thousands, I find it incredible that we are about to become only the second state in the country, besides California, to have our own state-specific ergonomics standard replete with fines, penalties and compliance enforcement. Certainly this does not seem to indicate that we are serious about saving and creating jobs in Michigan," Owens wrote in his resignation letter to Doug Kalinowski, director of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In testimony before the House Commerce Committee in Lansing, Owens predicted the cost to taxpayers of administering new ergonomics rules could reach millions of dollars a year.
Meanwhile, a Detroit Free Press columnist, Tom Walsh, echoing the business community's tiresome "sky is falling" threats warns that
This fixation on jobs is understandable in a state with a jobless rate of 7.2 percent, or 1.6 percentage points higher than the national rate. Each point of unemployment translates to more than 50,000 Michigan friends and neighbors without work.

But along with mulling big ideas about the jobs dilemma, it's also important to remain vigilant in the bureaucratic trenches about new rules and red tape that can dump job-killing extra costs upon Michigan business. In that spirit, let's hear a little applause for Charlie Owens.
Let's not.

I've never been very confident that the Michigan ergo standard was gong to get anywhere, despite their best intentions. The business community has long ago declared a nation-wide jihad against any ergonomics standard anywhere, and has been willing to spend any amount of money and tell any lie to stop or repeal any standards.

The Michigan NFIB webpage doesn't exactly hold out any hope that it representatives will be open minded:
MIOSHA is currently being directed to promulgate a state-based ergonomics standard for Michigan business. NFIB was successful in urging the Bush administration to rescind the Clinton administration's Executive Order that would have created a mandatory federal ergonomics standard. Now Michigan is seeking to move forward on a state ergonomics mandate on business. NFIB supports voluntary ergonomics best practices guidelines, but we will oppose a state mandated program that will cost small business millions of dollars and result in more enforcement and fines from MIOSHA.
"Voluntary ergonomics best practices guidelines?" That wouldn't be like the ANSI standard that the business community also managed to scuttle, would it?