Ergonomic Rules Fight Gains Steam

November 2, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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LANSING — The Michigan Manufacturers Association is trying to derail a draft of ergonomic standards that could result in Michigan becoming the second state in the nation — after California — to impose state ergonomic regulations on employers beyond the federal requirements.

The Ergonomic Standard Advisory Committee is expected to sign off on the draft at its last meeting in late November. The draft then goes to two state-appointed commissions: the General Industry Safety Standards Commission and the Occupational Health Standards Commission.

"While the Michigan Manufacturers Association supports ergonomics as a practice, we are adamantly opposed to a mandatory standard," said Amy Shaw, director of education and employment relations at the MMA.

The rule as drafted would set minimum requirements for all general industry employers regarding awareness training and the process for assessing and responding to ergonomic occupational risk factors. The rules would not apply to construction, agriculture, mining and domestic employment.

According to Shaw, OSHA itself favors guidelines as opposed to a mandatory ergonomic rule because of the complex nature of ergonomic hazards and the difficulty of measuring exposure to them.

"MMA has repeatedly tried to convince MIOSHA and the Ergonomic Standards Advisory Committee to turn away from mandatory rules, and focus their efforts instead on developing resources and voluntary guidelines that would help, rather than force, employers to implement ergonomic programs," she said.

"Despite OSHA's support for voluntary guidelines versus a mandatory standard, the Ergonomics Advisory Standard Committee's work has been to write a mandatory standard, and it is a mandatory standard that they will be asked to sign off on at their next meeting on Nov. 28. The standard would then be taken up by the General Industry Safety Standards and Industrial Health Standards Commissions and if they decide to proceed, the request for rulemaking would be filed, signaling the 'official' start of the formal promulgation process," said Shaw.

The Ergonomic Standards Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from four labor organizations, five representatives of corporate management, two from the public sector  — University of Michigan and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — plus two technical advisors and a person from Western Michigan University to act as liaison with the commissions.

Shaw was previously on the ESAC committee representing MMA, as was Charles S. Owens of the National Federation of Independent Business, but both resigned.

According to Shaw, Owens resigned when he learned the committee was planning to write a rule, rather than determine if a rule could or should be written.

"I resigned after the governor signed the budget with language prohibiting DLEG/MIOSHA (Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration) from spending any money to develop an ergonomic rule, but told the committee to continue its work anyway, deeming the language in the budget to be 'unenforceable,'" said Shaw.

At the ESAC meeting in late October, Shaw presented letters from Michigan employers in opposition to a mandatory ergonomic standard.

The Small Business Association of Michigan stated in its letter that "small business owners are not equipped to deal with the training and development of ergonomic standards so most would be required to hire someone to provide this service for them."

A letter from the Michigan Grocers Association noted that Congress overturned a similar federal ergonomics law proposed in 2001.

"Why would we want to impose such costly regulations on our state businesses at a time when many are doing all they can to keep from closing their doors and moving to other states?" said the letter from Linda M. Gobler, president of the Michigan Grocers Association.

Other letters in opposition were from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan Restaurant Association and others.

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