Heads Up; Here Come Ergonomics

Once again our friends at OSHA have devised a new and exciting plan to help manufacturing fill all those idle hours and assign surplus workers to meaningful work filling out reports. Hmmm, that probably sounds sarcastic.

Columns From: 5/1/2000 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Once again our friends at OSHA have devised a new and exciting plan to help manufacturing fill all those idle hours and assign surplus workers to meaningful work filling out reports. Hmmm, that probably sounds sarcastic. Well it is, and that’s my final answer.

OK, here’s the deal. OSHA is proposing standards that address MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) and RSIs (repetitive-stress injuries). If adopted, these standards would require about 1.6 million employers to implement a basic ergonomics program within their companies.

Apparently the minimum tasks for companies to perform under these regulations include (1) assigning someone to be responsible for ergonomics, (2) providing employees with information on the risk of injuries and on symptoms to be alert to and (3) setting up a system for employees to report signs of trouble. This stuff applies to everyone in manufacturing.

Moreover, if your company has had the misfortune of recording even one actual MSD or RSI, then a “full” program is required. You don’t want a “full” program. It includes management leadership and employee participation, hazard information and reporting, job hazard analysis and control, training, MSD/RSI management and program evaluation.

In fairness, the proposal does offer companies a “quick fix” alternative that stipulates that if you correct a hazard within 90 days, and confirm the correction works, you’re off the hook for a “full” program. Do I hear a collective sigh of relief? There is also a “grandfather” clause that gives credit to companies with an effective ergonomics program in place who are working to correct hazards.

You might be surprised, but so far this proposal, and that’s all it is at this point, has not been warmly embraced by manufacturing. OSHA admits “most employers in general industry will incur minimal costs.” Be afraid. Be very afraid. OSHA pegs these costs at an average of $150 per year per work station fixed. That’s about $4.2 billion per year. However NAM (the National Association Of Manufacturers-—www.nam.org/hrp) puts the annual costs just to small and medium manufacturers at $6.7 billion in the first year or about $781 per employee.

Manufacturers faced with an acute shortage of workers are certainly not motivated to endanger their assets. Do we need an omnibus set of regulations to bureaucratize common sense business practice? Read more about it at www.osha-slc.gov/ergonomics-standard/fedregabbrversion.htm.

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