Monday, May 16, 2005

Ergo Barbarians Strike Again: The Revenge of the Construction Associations

They never give up, do they?

In opposing any and all efforts to issue regulations to protect workers' safety and health, industry often argues that the inevitable contentious atmosphere that accompanies inflexible one-size-fits-all regulations and punitive, unfair enforcement actions are self-defeating and, well, just plain unAmerican. It would be much more effective and friendly and cooperative if we all just sat down together and reached a consensus on flexible voluntary standards.

Or so they say. At least until a voluntary standard is almost issued. Then all bets are off. Especially if we're talking about ergonomics. As Jordan wrote a year and a half ago:
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.
That was right before the anti-ergonomic barbarians succeeded in killing a consensus ergonomics standard, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard Z365 standard, which was buried under threats of litigation from industry.

Shortly after gutting of that standard, the ANSI A10 committee which develops all the construction standards began to develop their own standard on ergonomics in construction (A10.40). The standard was drafted and approved last Fall by over 2/3rds vote of the entire committee. Then, last month the full ANSI A10 committee narrowly reversed its Fall decision. Under the program-oriented standard, employers would have been required to assess the ergonomic risks of worksite tasks, identify and implement solutions for those with significant risk and evaluate the outcomes.

The standard had passed in a close vote last December, but members had a 30 day period this spring to change their votes, and successful lobbying by a small minority of industry trade associations swayed several members. After delays, their switches became official in May. Though 62 percent of committee members still favor adoption (see votes below), ANSI rules requires that at least half the committee vote in favor and that, among those voting, two-thirds support the standard’s adoption. In this case, all 61 members of the committee voted (not including a few abstentions), but 23 voted against -- 3 too many opposition votes. Several people changed their votes after an arm twisting campaign by industry associations, like the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (representing plumbing contractors). More than one association which switched their vote at the last minute said they were told by their Association president, we are voting No, despite the fact they believed in the standard and supported it themselves.

Objections to the new standard varied but none were new or factually-based. Some opposition was based on the view that the standard will impose new costs on contractors. Some was based on the fear that the voluntary standard would open companies up to law suits. In addition, some employers continue to claim that sprain and strain injuries are not real, that workers fake them to get time off with compensation or that the injuries are not work-related. When queried about what changes in the standard would make it acceptable, their response was “dropping it.” In fact, they accused the standard’s supporters of being “ideologically motivated.” The industry continued to claim there was no “sound science” to support it. One of the most vocal opponents was the Department of Energy, which is odd because they have done quite a bit at their own facilities.

Many contractors, however, do accept the need to address these kinds of injuries and have been active – on their own worksites as well as in ANSI – in establishing programs and committees to address the risk. The Army Corps of Engineers requires employers on their sites to address ergonomic risk factors. INTEL requires all contractors on their sites to have an ergonomics program. The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation has published a document showing the return on investment from ergonomics changes in construction. But facts can be conveniently ignored.

The ergonomics subcommittee will meet again in July and consider whether any changes in the proposed standard might shift the three votes needed to adopt the standard. If that appears promising, changes will be made and the full committee will vote again in August or September.

It ain't over till it's over. And it ain't even over then. For the industry fold, it ain't over until any ergnomics standard -- voluntary or mandatory -- extinct as a unicorn.

Stay tuned for the next round....

Voting against the standard
  • Associated Builders and Contractors
  • Associated General Contractors
  • Barton-Malow Company
  • Chicago Bridge and Iron
  • Clark Construction
  • Cole-Miller Safety
  • Construction Users Roundtable
  • ECI Safety Services
  • Edison Electric Institute
  • Gilbane Building
  • Mechanical Contractors Association
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • National Association of Professional Engineers
  • NEA- Association of Union Contractors
  • National Roofing Contractors Association
  • Ryland Group
  • Safety and Quality Plus
  • Scaffolding, Shoring and Forming Institute
  • TIC- The Industrial Company
  • Turner Construction
  • US Department of Energy
  • ZBD Constructors

Voting for the standard
  • Aegis Corporation
  • Allegheny Power System
  • American Insurance Services Group
  • Black and Veatch
  • Phil Colleran
  • Dupont Company
  • Richard Hislop
  • Institute of Makers of Explosives
  • International Safety Equipment Association
  • Jack Mickle
  • Maryland OSHA
  • National Association of Railroad consultants
  • Dan Paine
  • Power Consultants
  • PCIAA (Alliance of American Insurers)
  • Sigma Associates
  • US Army Corps of Engineers
  • West Virginia University
  • And 14 Union votes

Related Articles