The standard, now being debated at meetings around the country, would require employers to develop programs aimed at reducing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. It would apply to manufacturing and manual handling operations which would likely include mechanics, dock workers and drivers.
Testifying at a hearing held recently in Washington, D.C., ATA Occupational Safety and Health Director Stuart Flatow emphasized that ATA supports methods to prevent injuries and advance workplace safety if they are “well-grounded in established scientific, technological and economic measures that do not dramatically impede production.” But employers attempting to comply with this standard “would be subjected to an endless circle of experimental measures” with no assurances that the programs would be effective.
OSHA estimates the cost for all covered industries at $4.23 billion but critics say it’s probably 15 times greater. ATA, said Flatow, strongly disputes OSHA’s $200 million estimate for trucking. The true figure is probably closer to a $6.5 billion estimate for a similar proposal drafted in 1995.
Flatow also questioned the need for an ergonomics standard since U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that the incidence of repetitive stress injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, dropped 24% from 1994 to 1998. Labor Department studies also show that repetitive stress injuries account for less than 1% of workplace injuries and illnesses that keep workers off the job.
Workplace injuries and illnesses in trucking-related industries have declined significantly over the last few years which shows that they’re taking proactive measures and spending significant resources to improve worker safety, Flatow noted. OSHA’s ergonomics standard would likely impede this positive trend by requiring motor carriers, as well as other employers, to shift limited resources away from proven safety measures to costly and unproven technologies.
If the standard is adopted, trucking should be exempted, he said. In its preliminary recommendations OSHA excluded agriculture, construction and the maritime industry.
Stated reasons included the lack of case studies to provide meaningful guidance and the fact that working conditions in those industries are quite different than general industry.
Working conditions in the trucking industry are also unique, Flatow argued. And OSHA has limited experience with ergonomics issues in trucking and warehousing. “Excluding trucking operations will help ensure that OSHA’s action does not threaten the competitive structure of the freight transportation industry, which consists of trucking operations, rail operations and maritime operations,” he said. “With the exclusion of trucking operations, OSHA would also give equal treatment to similarly situated industries.”
More information about the proposed standard can be found at the OSHA web site.