WASHINGTON -- New ergonomic guidelines for retail grocery stores released May 28 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration here met with qualified praise from retailers and contempt from labor.
Food Marketing Institute and National Grocers Association each reiterated their stances that the guidelines remain voluntary, and that OSHA field staff refrain from enforcing them as standards. In the meantime, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union denounced the guidelines as toothless, and predicted they would have little effect in reducing workplace injuries until regulated.
The OSHA grocery store guideline, Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders, is available at the osha.gov Web site. The 28-page document will "help build upon the progress the grocery store industry has made in addressing the causes" of musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, according to OSHA.
The document was crafted after the amendment of draft guidelines that were published last spring. The guidelines were amended with input from a variety of sources, including FMI and NGA. Eric Nicoll, FMI's director of government relations, said the trade group felt that too few of the changes it suggested were implemented, resulting in a document he described as too bureaucratic, too long and too complicated.
"This is still much better than a mandatory federal regulation with enforcement, which we had under the Clinton administration, but we still have concerns with how this gets used down the road," Nicoll told SN. "We're vehemently opposed to turning this into a federal regulation at any point in the future."
The associations are equally concerned about the guidelines being interpreted or perceived by Department of Labor field staff as mandatory, according to Tom Wenning, senior vice president and general counsel, NGA.
Nonetheless, retail associations were more satisfied than labor leaders with the report. Jackie Nowell, UFCW's director of occupational safety and health, told SN the union doesn't trust retailers to practice under the guidelines; without enforcement, there is no incentive to do so. "Some companies are doing a good job with [ergonomics], but how will this get companies that aren't doing enough to do more?" she asked. "Tell them, 'Here's some voluntary guidelines, please use them'? They're bending over backwards to say they won't be enforced.
"Our contention is, without a standard, we're not going to get very far reducing MSDs."
Retailers told SN that at the very least, the guidelines could be useful to companies that might need an introduction to ergonomics as a means of preventing on-the-job injuries.
"There's some really great stuff in there in terms of how people should work and basic ergonomic principles that are easy to comply with," said Jim Ciaramitaro, safety manager for Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass. "It can be used to instruct employees in ergonomics and safety."
Jim Koskan, corporate director of risk control for Supervalu, Minneapolis, and a member of the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics, said he urged OSHA to use language in the document that did not imply a direct cause-and-effect between ergonomic practices and specific outcomes. "Our input to OSHA was put it in a format that is certain to indicate, 'We're not sure this works, but perhaps it would make a difference in your business, Mr. Retailer,"' Koskan said. "The draft had language that indicated, 'If you do Process X, you'll get Result Y,' but we don't know if that is necessarily true.
"We think the guidelines are probably the best attempt we could see from OSHA in trying to assemble something that in their view would work for the industry," Koskan added. "But if it smells or looks like a regulation, it's going to be perceived as threatening and not get used."