OSHA opts for voluntary guidelines on ergonomics

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on April 5 announced an ergonomics plan centered on voluntary guidelines, rather than the controversial rules that the president and Congress overturned early last year.

OSHA will immediately begin work on developing industry- and task-specific guidelines to prevent ergonomic injuries, often called musculoskeletal disorders, that occur in the workplace, said agency administrator John Henshaw.

The American Trucking Associations announced its support of the plan. “We believe that these recommendations have been arrived at through a carefully studied and open process that asked the right questions of the right people: those who have to work within the rules,” said ATA President William Canary.

Guidelines ready for use in selected industries will be released this year. OSHA will also encourage other businesses and industries to develop additional guidelines of their own.

OSHA will provide specialized training and information on guidelines and the implementation of successful ergonomics programs. It will also administer targeted training grants, develop compliance assistance tools and create a program to recognize successful injury reduction efforts.

Regarding enforcement, OSHA says failure to implement guidelines drawn up under this plan will not be a violation in itself. But employers who do not offer protection for “recognized serious hazards,” including ergonomics hazards, will still be subject to penalties. Special emphasis will be placed on industries with the sorts of serious ergonomics problems that OSHA and the Labor Department have addressed in the past. OSHA will use specialized inspection teams and a targeted enforcement plan to address ergonomics issues.

“Thousands of employers are already working to reduce ergonomic risks without government mandates,” said Henshaw. “We want to work with them to continuously improve workplace safety and health. We will go after the bad actors who refuse to take care of their workers.”

The plan will also establish a national advisory committee; part of its task will be to advise OSHA on aspects of ergonomics where additional research is needed. For more information on OSHA’s plan, visit www.osha.gov.

Key ergo contacts
To help implement its plan for voluntary ergonomics compliance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration named ergonomics coordinators for each of the agency’s 10 regional offices. The coordinators have experience in identifying ergonomics hazards and in suggesting practical solutions for common problems that may be associated with musculoskeletal disorders. They will serve as resources for OSHA compliance officers, assist with the outreach efforts of OSHA compliance assistance specialists and field specific questions from employers and employees. The regional coordinators are:

Region I Boston Fred Malaby (617) 565-9860
Region II New York Paul Cherasard (212) 337-2378
Region III Philadelphia Jim Johnston (215) 861-4900
Region IV Atlanta Jim Drake (404) 562-2300
Region V Chicago Dana Root (312) 353-2220
Region VI Dallas Susan Monroe (214) 767-4731
Region VII Kansas City JoBeth Cholmondeley (816) 426-5861
Region VIII Denver Terry Mitton (303) 844-1600
Region IX San Francisco Barbara Goto (415) 975-4310
Region X Seattle Steve Gossman (206) 553-5930