INDUSTRY TO OSHA: GUIDELINES GOOD BUT COULD BE BETTER

WASHINGTON -- Industry associations and other insiders said the draft of voluntary ergonomic guidelines issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration here earlier this month represented a good start but needs considerable improvement before the guidelines are finalized.In contrast, organized labor, which continues to say it would prefer mandatory ergonomic regulations, such as those

WASHINGTON -- Industry associations and other insiders said the draft of voluntary ergonomic guidelines issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration here earlier this month represented a good start but needs considerable improvement before the guidelines are finalized.

In contrast, organized labor, which continues to say it would prefer mandatory ergonomic regulations, such as those issued by OSHA in the final weeks of the Clinton administration (and repealed by Congress in March 2001), criticized the guidelines as incoherent.

The 29-page document, replete with suggestions on how to prevent job-related aches and pains and sprinkled with a few success stories about supermarket companies that have reduced their injury rate, is available at OSHA's Web site, www.osha.gov. OSHA said it is accepting public comment through July 8 and will later hold a stakeholders' meeting to discuss possible changes.

Association spokesmen praised the guidelines for their flexibility. Tom Wenning, vice president and general counsel, National Grocers Association, Arlington, Va., said, "On the whole, I think they're a step in the right direction. We are pleased OSHA is encouraging employers to take the parts that apply to their business and use them in a voluntary fashion."

However, some said the guidelines need to be revised if they are going to provide real assistance to companies looking to make their workplaces safer. Eric Nicoll, director of government relations, Food Marketing Institute here, told SN, "My reaction is kind of mixed. The key question is: Is this a product retailers can put to use easily? My initial thought is that it could be made more concise."

Others said the guidelines overstate the role that an improved workplace can play in preventing injuries. Jim Koskan, director of risk management, Supervalu, Minneapolis, and the sole representative for the supermarket industry on OSHA's 15-member National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics, said he had concerns over the general "flavor" of the guidelines. "There are factors that influence these injury rates that are beyond the control of the workplace. My suggestion to FMI is that OSHA needs to be a little more upfront with that," he said.

While insiders object to the guidelines' flavor, organized labor has problems with the whole concept of guidelines.

Jackie Nowell, director of the occupational safety and health office at the United Food and Commercial Workers Union here, told SN, "My theory is you can put out guidelines, but without any teaching they're not going to do much."

Wenning and Nicoll said they will be sending copies of the guidelines to some members and internal committees before their organizations issue written comments. Nowell also said she intends to submit written comments. All three said they plan to attend the stakeholders' meeting.