February 22, 2000

Mr. Charles Jeffress, Assistant Secretary of Labor
U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
200 Constitution Avenue, NW (S.2315)
Washington, DC 20210

REF: OSHA PROPOSED ERGONOMICS REGULATION

Assistant Secretary Jeffress:

The purpose of this letter is to submit comments from members of the Executive Committee and general membership of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Columbia-Willamette Chapter, Portland, Oregon, to address the proposed OSHA Ergonomic Program Standard.

The ASSE Columbia-Willamette Chapter summary position is as follows:

* ASSE-CWC supports the concept of a federal standard addressing ergonomics. We believe that all industries, including agriculture, should be covered and that implementation of the standard for all industries should be implemented during the same timeframe.

* ASSE-CWC believes there is science justifying the creation of such a standard, but stresses the need to continue the research and updating of the standard as data from such research warrants.

* ASSE-CWC has significant concern with specific portions of this proposal. We believe that the medical management/removal section should be removed in its entirety.

The Columbia-Willamette Chapter of ASSE positions are based on consensus and do not reflect complete member unanimity. Our members are involved in the development and implementation of standards, methods, procedures, systems, and devices for the purpose of reducing, controlling, or eliminating hazardous exposures. Our interests are solely those of professional practitioners whose charge is to protect our nation's resources.

A major element of our National Society's mission is to support sound actions that enable the development of effective safety and health standards designed to facilitate the identification and control of hazardous conditions and practices. From such standards, hazard control methods, procedures, and programs are initiated to promote positive and pro-active approaches to safety and health. An integral element of these techniques is mandatory quality training and educational requirements, which communicate the necessary hazard recognition, control, and avoidance information. This methodology, when properly implemented, has the potential to effectively reduce our nation's workplace injury and illness toll.

Position

The Columbia-Willamette Chapter of ASSE supports the position and comments of our National ASSE Organization. We also wish to express our concerns with certain elements of the proposed Ergonomics Standard.

* The Standard should focus more on how to prevent ergonomic injuries and not on actions to be taken after a reported injury.
* The Medical management section should be removed entirely. OSHA's objective is to prevent injuries, illness and fatalities; not to address how individuals are compensated during rehabilitation. In the states where our members work, there are already a whole series of laws addressing this issue.
* The proposed standard does not address who is competent to provide ergonomic evaluations. Our Chapter and ASSE consider this issue to be of primary significance.
o It positions health care professionals as potentially being able to provide consultation on ergonomics without regard for their occupational safety and health professional background.
o We strongly suggest that OSHA look at the issue of required credentials and specifically cite safety professionals with accredited certifications, licensing/registration or ergonomic expertise as being qualified to perform ergonomic evaluations.
* As proposed, the standard may force some organizations to focus their primary attention to ergonomics instead of enhancing their overall safety and health program.
* As currently proposed, most jobs currently performed in the United States could eventually be considered a Problem Job due to the threshold being set at one incident of a reported WMSD.
* The standard should address only legitimate ergonomic hazards, and avoid false positives:
o such as a safe job being called unsafe only because they resemble similar jobs so classified. (i.e. OSHA's assertion in 1910.505 [ii] that concerns with one position are indicative of ergonomic concerns with another similar positions)
o employees with congenital or normal aging symptoms being treated or mistreated as WMSDs.
* The Threshold of one WMSD to identify a Problem Job is unreasonable
* The standard should be applicable to all employers and implemented during the same time frame. Failure to do so creates a category of second-class citizens for the employers working in industries exempt from the standard. All employees have the same right to a safe workplace.
* The standard should describe the basic tenets and best practices necessary for successfully developing and managing an effective ergonomic program.
* The language in 1910504[D] may create an unreasonable burden for many employers by requiring them to develop information in multiple languages at various levels of literacy and cultural considerations. Our Chapter supports the replacement language suggested by National ASSE:
o "You may use any form of communication, including information sheets, videotapes, or classes. You must provide information in a way that employees are able to understand, (e.g. giving them the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers)."
* 1910.507 Medical Management - The language addressing medical management is a serious concern, and we suggest it be removed in its entirety. The consensus of most National ASSE reviewers is that this section violates the Occupational Safety and Health Act 29USC 653 (b)[4]. The following were suggested as the key concerns with this section:
o Circumvents existing state law/regulations
o Will create a new class of ADA victims
o Creates additional liability exposures for employers, equipment manufacturers and government safety and health entities
o Will generate significant resistance to the proposal
o The standard should concentrate on preventing ergonomic injuries; and not addressing medical management issues.
o Health care professionals (HCP) generally are not qualified to conduct workplace ergonomic hazard analysis and recommend control methods
+ HCP not trained in occupational field creates potential for misdiagnosis and mismanaged WMSDs
+ OSHA position here is inconsistent since it places great faith on HCP as 3rd party reviewers, but continues to express concern with the integrity and honest of safety consultants.
+ Language in proposed rule potentially establishes HCP as defacto workplace ergonomic consultants. Qualified Safety and Heath professionals should have been cited as providers.
* Apparent conflict between creation of significant new amounts of recordkeeping and paperwork reduction act.
* Definitions {and the lack there of}
o How can OSHA measure a program and how can an employer determine success?
o What does effective medical management mean?
o Prolonged means extended and many times
o Repeated means prolonged
o Routine means regular
o Substantial means requiring exertion of considerable force

Columbia-Willamette Chapters of ASSE supports our National ASSE position on:

* Third Party Audits/Evaluations by qualified private sector providers
* OSHA compilation of data relating to additional cost to employers by developing an effective ergonomics program and Internal Revenue Service credits based on that data.
* Provisions established to allow lower fines for employers who have made a good faith effort to comply with the standards.

We hope our comments will be of assistance to OSHA. This proposed Standard could be of significant benefit to employees, employers, professional safety and health organizations, and the country overall if/when finalized. The Columbia-Willamette Chapter of ASSE will continue to support OSHA in the creation of an ergonomic standard, which is of benefit to America.

We thank you for your attention to this matter, and if we can be of assistance please feel free to contact our Chapter.

For the Membership,

John Remmers, President
Columbia-Willamette Chapter

 

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