Challenges To Ergonomics Standard Consolidated

By Michael A. Verespej Legal challenges to the ergonomics standard issued last month by OSHA have been consolidated in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (D.C.). The challenges were filed by businesses and unions in seven different circuit courts Litigants were told the D.C. Appellate Court was chosen Dec. 1 in a lottery to determine where to consolidate the cases, say sources from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the National Coalition on Ergonomics (NCE). The appellate court will now set a timetable as to when briefs are due on specific issues. Business groups have challenged the final standard -- designed to reduce repetitive-motion injuries -- on its economic analysis, its scientific basis, and on the grounds that the final standard is not a "logical outgrowth" of the proposal as is required by law. A case in point: The medical triggers that require companies to institute ergonomics programs are different from those originally proposed, says Baruch A. Fellner, a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, lawyers for the NCE. Insurers are arguing that OSHA exceeded its statutory authority with its worker removal provisions that supersede workers' compensation laws, and organized labor wants OSHA to remove exemptions for the railroad, maritime, construction, and agriculture industries. Unless the matter is expedited by the court, Fellner says the earliest business can expect a final court decision on whether the standard -- which has an effective date of Jan. 13 and a compliance date of mid-0ctober 2001 -- will be upheld is February or March of 2002. Regardless, says Deron Zeppelin, director of governmental affairs, SHRM, companies need to look at the standard and understand what it requires them to do as a company so they don't get caught should the standard not be overturned.

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