Ergonomics Standards Being Cramped By Several Forces

Michael Verespej Don't expect the ergonomics standards issued by OSHA to go into effect anytime soon -- even though it has an effective date of Jan. 16. In an effort to get the standard overturned, The National Assn. of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Society for Human Resource Management, and the Labor Policy Assn. filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Nov. 13. The suit came shortly after the controversial standard --10 years in the making -- was issued. "If the past is any guide, there will be a great deal of lengthy litigation . . . possibly with judicially ordered rewrites," says Ron Bird, economist, Economic Policy Foundation, Washington. A similar lawsuit was filed in the 4th U.S. District Court of Appeals by the Insurance Industry Assn. "The agency did a poor job of developing a record on this proposal and there are significant procedural issues that can be challenged," says a source close to the situation. "There is a fairly high level of confidence that industry will prevail in getting the standard overturned." Both houses of Congress have passed riders to the health and human services budget that would have prevented OSHA from issuing the standard for a year. Those riders have kept the budget bill stalled in the conference committee. OSHA says the standard will protect 102 million workers at 6.1 million worksites and prevent nearly one-quarter million injuries a year at a cost of $4.5 billion annually. But Bird puts the compliance cost at more than $125 billion. "It is the most expensive rule OSHA has ever issued." The changes made since last November's proposal only make it "more costly, not less." If the standard goes into effect, businesses will have nine months to comply with most portions of the regulation. The regulation is being published Nov. 14 -- at a length of 1,600 pages--in the Federal Register.

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