WASHINGTON (Feb. 2, 2000)—Rubber industry associations joined in the applause for the Labor Department´s decision to extend the deadline for comments and move back public meeting dates for its proposed ergonomics standard.
"I think it´s a wise move on their part to consider the implications of what they´re trying to do," said David E. Poisson, executive vice president of the Tire Association of North America. "It´s an encouraging sign that they are at least willing to consider more information before they promulgate a new regulation."
Mr. Poisson was one of many business representatives who decried the Nov. 22 proposal, and the Feb. 1 deadline for comments to the Labor Department´s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as a "rush to judgment" that blindsided U.S. employers.
The proposal, designed to prevent workplace injuries, requires some 1.9 million workplaces in the U.S. to establish basic ergonomics programs on site. OSHA claims the standard will prevent 300,000 workplace injuries annually, but business interests say the agency has no evidence to back this claim.
OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress, who praised the document as "the most flexible standard OSHA has ever proposed," was adamant that the deadline would not be changed, claiming the importance of the proposed rule demanded that it be issued as quickly as possible.
On Jan. 27, however, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman officially moved the comment deadline back 30 days to March 2. Ms. Herman also moved the first public meeting on the proposal to March 13 from Feb. 22, in Washington.
"Because this standard is so important, we determined that it is in the best interests of workers, employers and all concerned to extend the comment period," she said in a prepared statement.
A meeting on the ergonomics standard scheduled for April 11 in Chicago will remain at the same place and date, Ms. Herman said. No decision had been made about the March 21 meeting scheduled for Portland, Ore., she added.
"It is appropriate we were given the extra comment period," said Kim Weber, director of government affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. "RMA plans to take the extra time to review and expand our comments and solicit additional information from our members."
The RMA plans to send its own comments to OSHA on the ergonomics proposal, although it also belongs to an ergonomics coalition with the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business and others. TANA, however, will allow a coalition of auto aftermarket associations to speak for it on ergonomics, Mr. Poisson said.
"The more groups we can align together, the more strength it gives to our point of view," he said.
The International Tire and Rubber Association does not plan to submit comments on the proposal, according to Roy E. Littlefield III, ITRA director of government affairs. But that doesn´t mean the association is not concerned about it.
"Obviously for a tire dealer or retreader, it´s very difficult to even fathom a regulation like this," Mr. Littlefield said. "There are just jobs that have to be done, and it´s not like our members have huge work forces."
Mr. Poisson echoed Mr. Littlefield´s worries about the proposal. He cited OSHA´s recent debacle with a proposal on covering home workplaces—which the agency was forced to rescind—as an example of the agency´s poor planning.
"I´m not surprised they moved the ergonomics deadline after the egg on their faces from the work-at-home proposal," he said. "They as a department need to get their act together."