The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reportedly revised its controversial ergonomics proposal.
According to the Wall Street Journal, copies of the draft were sent anonymously to a unnamed trade newsletter and to a Washington attorney who represents UPS.
The standard, proposed in late 1999, would require employers to develop programs aimed at preventing and treating musculoskeletal disorders, commonly associated with repetitive motion. It would apply to manufacturing and manual handling operations which likely would include mechanics, dock workers and drivers. OSHA estimates the cost for all covered businesses at $4.23 billion and about $200 million for trucking. The American Trucking Associations has said the figure for trucking is probably closer to $6.5 billion.
The agency held hearings throughout the country last summer, and the new draft is clearly an attempt to address some of the protests voiced by business and industry. For instance, the original proposal requires employers to provide full benefits and slightly reduced pay to covered workers for up to six months. The agency has supposedly reduced that to 90 days.
Employers also complained that the proposal was too vague, so OSHA has added a set of detailed specifications employers would use to determine if their workers are performing hazardous tasks. For instance, kneeling or squatting for more than two hours a day would be considered hazardous. So would lifting more than 75 pounds once a day.
At-risk employees would have free access to health care professionals. Under the revised proposal, employers could seek second and third opinions but would have to follow the treatment prescribed, including time off or a reduced workload.
Republicans in Congress have generally sided with business groups in efforts to block the proposal. A provision in the Labor Department’s budget, which includes OSHA, would have delayed a final rule until October 2001, but President Clinton threatened to veto the bill unless the provision was removed. Congress put off further action on the Labor budget until after the election.