The Coming Ergonomics Brawl
BY AARON TRIPPLER, DIRECTOR, AIHA® GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS
Get used to hearing about ergonomics,
because we’re in for a lot of talk on this
issue over the next three years.
The Obama administration has consistently said that ergonomics must be addressed. Now, labor and industry are
gearing up for a fight. Industry recently
landed some punches by pointing to
studies suggesting that ergonomics concerns aren’t as work-related as previously thought.
But is now the right time for OSHA to
enter the fray? Under the leadership of
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for
OSHA Jordan Barab, the agency has
done an excellent job collecting the low-hanging fruit of occupational health and
safety issues. Why risk stalling that
progress and creating a more adversarial
relationship with industry by trying to
address ergonomics now? A better approach might be to work with industry
on some of the less complicated issues
before turning to ergonomics.
And ergonomics will certainly be
complicated. Even organizations that
support an ergonomics standard—
including AIHA—had concerns about the proposal ultimately rejected by Congress in
2001. But the administration is adamant:
it will address ergonomics in the next
So labor and industry are rolling up
their sleeves. No matter who wins this
fight, plenty of reports will be published
and dollars spent.
Fiscal Year 2010 Budget
Speaking of dollars: True to recent
form, Congress failed to adopt a fiscal
2010 budget for most of the departments of the federal government. A
continuing resolution will keep the
government afloat through Dec. 18, so
Congress intends to stay in session at
least until then. In the meantime, government departments and agencies will
receive the same funding they received
Protecting America’s Workers Act
Any serious consideration the Protecting
America’s Workers Act receives will have
to come from the House of Representatives. The Senate, wrapped up in health
care and other issues, has little interest
in this legislation, and no OHS champion
has emerged to fill the role played by
In the House, Rep. Lynn Wolsey will
only move a bill that has a chance of
passage, so the existing bill will probably be redrafted in some form. I’m
hearing that the section of the bill that
would expand OSHA coverage to public
employees not currently covered by
OSHA will probably be removed.
Nearly everyone thinks this coverage is
a great idea, but the potential cost and
other factors will likely keep it out of
the new bill.
Regarding the provision for an increase in criminal penalties, considerable
discussion has centered on the definition
of a “willful” violation. The wording will
probably change to something like
“knowingly violates any standard or
rule,” which is presumably easier to
prove in court than a willful violation.
The House remains convinced that
sections regarding victim’s rights and
whistleblower protections are the staples
of the bill and should be kept intact.
Even with these changes, the bill will be
difficult to enact.
AIHA seeks members’ input on a major
issue within OSHA’s proposal to align
the hazard communication standard with
the Globally Harmonized System for the
Classification and Labeling of Chemicals
(GHS). The proposal states that, when
GHS is adopted, the TLVs® will no longer
be cited within the Hazard Communication Standard. OSHA is not required to
cite the TLVs, but AIHA commented in
2006 that we hoped the agency would
continue to do so, and if not, would at
least reference the TLVs in an appendix.
AIHA still believes the TLVs, as well as
AIHA WEELs and other exposure guidelines, should be included in the Hazard
If you have comments on this part of
the proposal, please send them to AIHA.
You can find the GHS proposal at
E9-22483.htm. OSHA will accept comments until Dec. 29.
The Washington Insider column in the
November issue stated that OSHA had finalized a silica rule and issued the proposed silica rule at the same time. This
kind of rulemaking actually occurred
with acetylene, not silica.
OSHA did say that it would expedite
silica rulemaking by accepting comments on the preliminary health effects
and quantitative risk assessment at the
same time as the proposed rule. I apologize for the confusion.
Aaron Trippler directs government affairs for more
be reached at (703) 846-0730 or firstname.lastname@example.org.