TESTIMONY OF AMERICAN SOCIETY OF SAFETY ENGINEERS ("ASSE")

On the Matter of:

"Department of Labor, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Proposed Standard on Ergonomics"

Presented by
John H. Cheffer, CSP, PE

April 13, 2000

Chairmanwoman Kelly and esteemed members of this Subcommittee: My name is John Cheffer. I am a Professional Engineer (PE), Certified Safety Professional (CSP), and Chairman of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) National Governmental Affairs Committee. ASSE, founded in 1911, with almost 33,000 members, is the oldest and largest Society of safety professionals in the world. We are dedicated to the protection of people, property, and environment on a worldwide basis.

My testimony focuses on how ASSE views the proposed OSHA ergonomics standard and how it could potentially impact small business. It is also appropriate to point out that through my professional life, I have personally worked with hundreds of small businesses on safety and health issues, including ergonomics.

ASSE wants to be clear on the following point: The Society is a supporter of OSHA as we believe the Agency maintains a national focus on the importance of occupational safety and health, and there is a need for a functional and understandable ergonomic standard that enables all employers to recognize problems and learn how to solve them. However, ASSE is concerned that the flaws in the proposed rule - such as the single incident trigger and its interference with established state worker's compensation programs -- and the rule's complexity with respect to small business entity compliance may result in the rejection of the entire standard. That is the precise reason why ASSE is the only organization that wrote an alternative proposal for OSHA's consideration.

With respect to small business issues, a key question involves the cost and complexity of performing an ergonomic analysis. OSHA has provided insufficient information to enable the small business owner or operator to understand the ergonomics issue and the proposed standard, or to determine what actions must be taken in order to identify and correct ergonomic hazards. ASSE is at a loss to see how a small business employer without specialized training will be able to use the standard to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders ("WMSDs"). The current proposal is much too complex for the average employer to use as a tool to address ergonomic issues.

ASSE believes that the Agency has underestimated the costs involved in implementing and maintaining compliance with the standard. The Agency gives the perception that ergonomic evaluation and controls are not that difficult to understand and are inexpensive to implement. However, ergonomics and cumulative trauma disorders are very complicated technical issues. Most ergonomics problems cannot be corrected through low-tech solutions such as having an employee stand on a box, or propping up a computer monitor with a phonebook, as OSHA has suggested.

ASSE asked OSHA if it conducted any studies or research on how many small business people can work the NIOSH Lifting Formula. The Agency does not appear to have adequately studied this issue. For example, while the NIOSH formula, Snook and Cirello tables, and RULA are specifically referenced in the Preamble, we do not believe that the typical small business person will able to learn all of this in the hour of training allotted in the Preamble's cost assessment. Later in the Preamble, OSHA acknowledges that more training may be necessary depending upon the specifics of the operation, but this additional training is apparently not factored into its cost estimates.

ASSE recently completed a survey of our members and other safety professionals on the issue of consultation. A total of 4,500 safety professionals were surveyed. While we readily acknowledge that this is not a scientific evaluation, it does give an excellent "snap shot" into cost considerations. Our data indicate that the average hourly billing rate for an ergonomic audit/evaluation is approximately $108 per hour for each consultant. This is an across the board average, and costs would probably be higher on the East or West coasts.

The basic problem with cost projection is that there are so many variables involved in performing a quality ergonomic evaluation, including the size and nature of the workplace and the workforce. The time required to conduct an evaluation at a small business involved with material handling or manufacturing would certainly be more extensive than an audit in an office setting, and the "fixes" could be much more costly as well. Along with the initial consultant's visit, there would be costs associated with report preparation, follow-up consultation, potential revisions to an action plan, and implementation of the recommendations. Based upon our data and experience, the OSHA time estimates in the proposed rule are inaccurate with respect to implementation of a work-related musculoskeletal disorder prevention program.

With respect to the cost of correcting ergonomic hazards at a small retail or service business, ASSE cannot give an overall estimate because of the variety of work environments. However, I have personally worked on issues which have run anywhere from $15 (e.g., changing table legs) to completely reengineering a work process, which costs thousands of dollars. Each situation is different -- that is the key difficulty with assessing the impact of OSHA's proposed ergonomics standard. There is no a one-size-fits-all approach to ergonomics, and our core belief is that it is impossible to provide a one-size-one-average-cost.

Another issue is whether OSHA could have identified successful ergonomic intervention controls. On January 8-9, 1997, ASSE had the opportunity to work with OSHA on a very successful conference titled: Ergonomics, Effective Workplace Practices and Programs. There were approximately 1,000 participants representing both the private and public sector. The conference focused on different approaches to ergonomics. The results were excellent, and it would have been useful for OSHA to point to some of these intervention strategies in the proposed rule's preamble for consideration by interested stakeholders. Such examples could show how ergonomics hazards have been effectively and efficiently addressed in the workplace by employers.

In summary, although ASSE's overall experience with OSHA has been very positive and we believe that a standard is needed, OSHA should not finalize the rule as drafted in the November 1999 proposal. OSHA must find an alternative method of protecting U.S. workers from work-related ergonomic injuries while not adversely impacting American small business. ASSE stands ready to work with both the agency and Congress in ensuring that a standard is eventually implemented that is both economically and technically feasible.

I thank you for your time today and would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.

     

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