OSHA ergonomic standard may be released in ’99

A federal ergonomics rule might be published in summer 1999, according to Charles Jeffress, PhD, administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC.

The rule will be released only if Congress does not stand in the way, as it has done in recent years. OSHA has worked on a comprehensive ergonomics rule for American workplaces since 1992, and it came close to releasing a rule in the past few years. But Congressional leaders smacked OSHA sharply on the hand and threatened to eliminate nearly all federal funding for OSHA if it released the rule. With such a strong rebuke, OSHA backed down.

But in a recent speech to the safety and health committee of the National Turkey Federation and the National Broiler Council in Washington, DC, Jeffress said OSHA plans to publish an ergonomics rule in the summer of 1999. He noted that Congress has not forbidden OSHA to publish the ergonomics rule next summer but still could block it by threatening the OSHA budget again, according to a transcript of the Jeffress speech obtained by Occupational Health Management.

Congress blocked the rule in the past because industry leaders complained that it was unnecessary, not supported by research, and would be cost prohibitive. Jeffress’ comments were made to poultry industry representatives because their workers are considered among the most at risk for repetitive motion injuries. He mentioned that a recent OSHA investigation found high risk for repetitive motion injuries in the poultry industry, but that back injuries accounted for 40% of injuries.

He urged the safety representatives to make simple, "common sense fixes." Reducing slips and falls would greatly reduce the number of back injuries, he said. High-traction boots are one good preventive measure. Another Jeffress recommendation: Keep that chicken fat off the floor.