Michigan Advances Ergonomics Rule Over Business Opposition

January 20, 2009

Michigan regulators have taken preliminary votes to advance mandatory workplace ergonomics standards for businesses in the state over the objections of the business community.

The votes by the General Industry Safety Standards Commission (GISSC) and Occupational Health Standards Commission (OHSC) mean public hearings will be held before the rule is formally adopted by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MOSHA).

Ergonomics standards and training are designed to promote safer techniques for heavy lifting, repetitive motion and various work positions– activities that if done incorrectly may contribute to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. The proposed standard would apply only to businesses in general industry, not construction.

If the rule is formally adopted, Michigan would join California, which is the only state with its own ergonomics rules. The federal government has voluntary ergonomics guidelines.

Supporters of the standards argue that ergonomics promote safety for workers and can actually save money by reducing injury and workers’ compensation costs.

According to the Michigan Workers’ Compensation Bureau, ergonomic hazards account for about 40 percent of the workers’ compensation claims paid in Michigan in 2006 and 2007.

Nurses’ aides and truck drivers have the greatest number of days away from work due to musculoskeletal disorders, the federal statistics show.

But some employers have argued that mandatory ergonomics training and reporting would raise the cost of doing business at a time when the state is suffering from one of the country’s highest unemployment rates. They also say it is unnecessary.

The National Federation of Independent Business maintains that the new rule would be a “costly and arduous” new mandate at a time when many small employers are struggling to survive.

“This is a terrible development for employers in Michigan that are already juggling multiple challenges just to keep their doors open,” said NFIB/Michigan State Director Charlie Owens. “And by imposing new regulations more burdensome and costly than 48 other states, MIOSHA is stamping a giant ‘Do Not Enter’ sign on our borders for new business.”

The businesses argue that ergonomics injuries have declined significantly without any mandatory rule due to voluntary programs and efforts by employers. “This rule is not necessary,” said Owens.

“With the highest unemployment rate in the country, it’s just stunning that state regulators are spending this much of their time creating new nails for our coffin,” said Owens.

Click here to view the Michigan OSHA draft rule.

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