WASHINGTON—Tire and rubber associations have serious concerns about a draft ergonomics standard being circulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Compared with an earlier OSHA draft, the new proposal ``leaves compliance determinations more and more at the hands of compliance officers,'' said Kim Weber, RMA manager of government affairs.
The new draft, unlike the old, forces employers who have existing ergonomics programs to prove those programs meet agency criteria, Ms. Weber noted. ``In the earlier draft, the requirements for grandfathering in existing programs were much easier,'' she said.
David Poisson, executive vice president of the Tire Association of North America, serves on a U.S. Chamber of Commerce committee that covers the OSHA ergonomics standard.
``Our hope is that the focus will be put on providing greater employee security and safety, and not on process,'' Mr. Poisson said. ``Unfortunately, OSHA seems focused on putting people through a lot of machinations ...OSHA's tendency is to look at how many fines it's issued as a measure of its success.''
Labor and industry in general, meanwhile, showed a marked split in their opinion of the document issued Feb. 19. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce denounced it as ``hopelessly vague'' and ``a blank check for OSHA inspectors.''
Conversely, the AFL-CIO—whose member unions include the United Steelworkers of America—praised the document as ``an important step in the right direction'' toward protecting U.S. workers from work-related injuries.
The idea behind the ergonomics draft is flexibility for employers to tailor ergonomics programs to their individual workplaces, said OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress at a Feb. 19 news conference.
Under the proposed standard, all manufacturing and manual handling operations are responsible for setting up programs to combat musculoskeletal injuries and disorders. General industry workplaces would not have to develop an ergonomics program until an ergonomics-related injury actually occurred.
Construction, maritime and agricultural workers are excluded from the standard.
Employers with 10 or fewer employees do not have to keep records on ergonomics injuries, Mr. Jeffress said at the news conference. Under standing federal law, employers of this size are exempt from all injury record keeping, except for fatalities.
Employers may set up their programs however they wish, Mr. Jeffress said, as long as they contain six basic elements:
Management leadership and employee participation;
Hazard identification and information, so employees can recognize and report problems;
Job hazard analysis and control;
Training for workers to avoid ergonomics hazards;
Medical management for effective evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders; and
Program evaluation to ensure the ergonomics plan complies with the OSHA standard.
Employers found in violation of the ergonomics rule would be fined $7,000 per violation; for willful violations, the penalty goes up to $70,000. This is the same as other OSHA regulations, Mr. Jeffress said.
As written, the draft would cover about 1.7 million workplaces, or about one-third of all workplaces in the U.S., Mr. Jeffress said.
In announcing the draft standard, Mr. Jeffress noted that Australia, New Zealand and most European countries already have an ergonomics rule in place.
``Even the Ivory Coast has a standard on ergonomics,'' he said. ``The U.S. isn't behind the Ivory Coast in many areas, but it is in this.''
Both the RMA and the U.S. Chamber criticized OSHA for going ahead with the draft before the National Academy of Sciences had a chance to complete a two-year, congressionally mandated study of ergonomics.
``This proposal covers all our members, since the rule is tagged to set up ergonomics programs if just one work-related musculoskeletal injury is reported,'' Ms. Weber said.
Mr. Jeffress, however, said the NAS held a seminar last fall in which participants concluded the workplace is a significant cause of musculoskeletal disorders, and that employers can do much to prevent such injuries.
``There are a lot of people out there who never saw a regulation they liked,'' he said. ``But through the preponderance of the evidence, we can show that this regulation is necessary and effective.''
The document is now being reviewed by a joint committee of OSHA, Small Business Administration and Office of Management and Budget officials for its impact on small business, as required under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement and Fairness Act. OSHA hopes to publish the proposal this fall in the Federal Register and issue a final rule by the end of 2000, Mr. Jeffress said.
The International Tire and Rubber Association declined comment on the draft proposal.