HUDSON, Ohio—What an Ohio attorney characterized as one of the most burdensome standards ever imposed on American businesses became effective on Jan. 16.
In fact, the standard's preamble is nearly 600 pages long. That standard is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Ergonomics Program Standard, which is designed to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among most U.S. workers.
The attorney, Christopher J. Carney of the Cleveland office of Brouse McDowell, told Tire Business the rule aims to protect workers from five injury risk factors: repetition, force, awkward postures, contract stress and vibration.
The standard covers all general industry employers, regardless of size, including retail tire stores, retread shops and tire warehouses.
According to Mr. Carney, Level I of compliance, due to be met on Oct. 15, requires employers to provide their workers with information about common MSDs, including their causes, signs and symptoms.
Level II compliance begins when an employee reports a possible MSD, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, tendonitis, herniated spinal disk, tension neck or rotator cuff syndromes, sciatica, low back pain or other injuries.
It is with such a report that the burdensome aspects of the standard begin, Mr. Carney said. Among the requirements of Level II Compliance are:
The determining of whether or not there is an MSD incident, based on whether the employee's signs or symptoms persist for seven or more days, or whether restricted duty, days away from work or medical treatment are required; and
The determining of whether or not an incident meets the standard's "action trigger," using the standard's "basic screening tool."
The basic screening tool is used to assess the above five risk factors. If the job that is believed to have caused or aggravated the injury meets the action trigger, the employer must create a corrective ergonomics program.
The corrective program must include MSD management, hazard reduction and control and employee training elements.
The MSD management element is one that Mr. Carney cites as being particularly troublesome for employers. It requires that employees have access to health care professionals to assess their symptoms, including second and third opinions.
If they are deemed to be injured, their employer must then provide such work protections as light duty at 100 percent of pay or up to 90 days off at 90 percent of pay (offset by Workers Compensation benefits, sick time and vacation time.)
Equally troubling to Mr. Carney is that the injury may not even have to be caused by job duties. Rather, conditions unrelated to employment (even due to aging) are covered if they are merely aggravated by job duties.
The hazard reduction and control element requires an employer to reduce or eliminate the causes of the employee's injury. Corrective and preventative steps can include redesigning tools, equipment, workstations, materials or processes, along with the way work is assigned or scheduled.
Mr. Carney noted that even though the Ergonomics Program Standard is now in effect, there are numerous challenges to it working their way through the courts. As previously reported in Tire Business, one such lawsuit is being jointly pursued against OSHA by the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Coalition on Ergonomics, whose members include the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the Tire Association of North America and the International Tire & Rubber Association.
The NAM also is seeking a congressional joint resolution striking down the ergonomics standard via the Congressional Review Act.
This would be accomplished using an untested 1996 law that allows Congress to annul any government regulation costing U.S. businesses more than $100 million.
Despite these and other efforts, Mr. Carney cautioned, it cannot be assumed that these legal challenges will stay or overturn the standard. That is why employers should begin now to ensure that they will be in compliance with it.