Ergo Standard: First 2001 Business

Contributing editor Bernie Knill tells where the ergonomic standard is now and where it might go.

Ergo Standard: First 2001 Business

So, now that George W. Bush is president of the United States, we don’t have to worry about the ill effects of the poorly written OSHA standard, right?

He’ll just get rid of that pesky standard with the stroke of a pen.

Won’t be that easy. According to W. Scott Railton, attorney with the firm of Reed Smith Hazel & Thomas LLP, the standard can be changed at this point only by court order or by a new rulemaking proceeding. "I think that this has been deliberately put beyond Bush’s ability to do anything about it, as a practical matter, because it’s also in the hands of the court." And in a recent client bulletin, Railton commented, "However, if it is reviewed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, we can say that there is substantial precedent from that Court which favors many of the provisions of the standard, including wage retention and medical peer review."

Where is the ergo standard now, and what is its timetable? First of all, it’s in effect, since it was promulgated on November 14 and President Clinton signed it. If your company has a serious ergonomics program, you undoubtedly know the provisions and are ready for inspections after January 16. Everybody else must comply with the standard and be ready to be inspected starting October 15.

As Compliance has stated over and over, MHM’s readers whose companies are involved with manufacturing or warehousing or both — and that’s practically everybody — are covered by the standard. And right off the bat, you have to implement the first two elements of the six-step ergo program:

• Management Leadership and Employee Participation;

• Hazard Information and Reporting.

This sounds easy, like you just call everybody into the auditorium and let the top brass explain what the standard is all about, and then everybody goes back to work. According to Scott Railton, there’s paperwork involved. "Employees are to be informed of the ergonomic risk factors in the jobs, and they are to be told how to report their MSD [musculoskeletal disorder] complaints. They are to be provided with a written short description of the requirements of the ergo standard and a written summary of the standard." And since we can anticipate that a brand-new, gung-ho bunch of compliance officers will be knocking at your door, prudence dictates that you get everything in writing.

Members of Congress were so opposed to the standard that they passed legislation holding up funding for the whole U.S. Department of Labor, but recently backed off because this issue was holding up the whole budget. One of the problems is that ergonomics sounds like a voodoo science to some people. But in the hardcore applications of ergonomics — lifting, pushing, moving things — ergonomics is an offshoot of material handling, with a different orientation, and puffed up by studies in the lab that have no bearing on applications in manufacturing or warehousing.

Ergonomics is too integral to a company’s culture to be the subject of a one-solution-fits-all.standard.

Bernie Knill

contributing editor

[email protected]

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