OSHA backtracks on documenting ergonomic injuries

WASHINGTON - Responding to what it called complaints by "small business," the Occupational Safety and Health Administration retreated from even the mild ergonomics proposal it had planned for later this year: forcing firms to count such injuries.

Dr. David Michaels, the OSHA chief, said, Jan.25, his agency would set up meetings with small businesses, on dates to be announced in 30 days, on the ergonomics injury counts issue. OSHA would set up meetings with "other interested parties" only "if requested," he added.

The rule withdrawal was disclosed by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., who hates OSHA and cheered the move.

OSHA had sent a proposed rule to President Obama's Office of Management and Budget. It called for a separate column on OSHA injury and illness reporting forms for ergonomics injuries, also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). There had been such an MSD column, but the GOP/Bush OSHA eliminated it in 2003. Bush and business pushed the then GOP-run Congress to kill a wider anti-MSD rule in 2001.

OSHA staffers said in an on-line chat earlier in January that the counting rule was the only MSD proposal the agency is considering and that the wider rule to crack down on MSDs is dead. Federal data show MSDs "accounted for 28 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses" that forced workers to miss time from the job, the agency added.

"The agency has taken this action to seek greater input from small businesses on the impact of the proposal and will do so through outreach in partnership with the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy," OSHA's announcement said.

"Work-related musculoskeletal disorders remain the leading cause of workplace injury and illness in this country, and this proposal is an effort to assist employers and OSHA in better identifying problems in workplaces," Michaels added.

"However, it is clear that the proposal has raised concern among small businesses, so OSHA is facilitating an active dialogue between the agency and the small business community."

OSHA's move was its second proposed rule withdrawal since Obama, in an op-ed in the pro-corporate Wall Street Journal, promised to order agencies to prune what he called unneeded or outmoded regulations. OSHA's other retreat, a week before, was the elimination of a proposal to write a rule regulating extreme noise on the job.

A check of union websites showed no immediate comments on OSHA's decision to yank the ergonomics count column, and there weren't any website cheers from the Chamber of Commerce, either. But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, answering questions at the National Press Club the week before, took a dim view of Obama administration plans to prune federal regulations.

"To the extent that (pruning) drives you away from health and safety" rules and enforcement, "that's a disappointment," Trumka said.

 

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