Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Saturday, August 13, 2005

National Coalition on Ergonomics: Still Crazy After All These Years

Anyone remember the National Coalition on Ergonomics? That was the business coalition formed to prevent -- and then repeal -- the federal ergonomics standard.

After their lies succeeded in convincing Congress to repeal the federal ergonomics standard and Washington state voters to repeal their state standard, one would think they'd quietly slither back under their rock to await the next battle with an administration that actually gives a shit about workers. In fact, being as the last entry on their website is from 2003, I thought they actually had gone back to the underworld.

But no. As I reported last April, the NCE petitioned OSHA to revamp its ergonomics guidelines for the poultry processing, retail grocery and nursing home industries, claiming that OSHA had violated the Information Quality Act (IQA) by asserting there is not adequate science to support the guidelines. The IQA allows "affected parties" to challenge and recommend corrections of information produced by agencies.

In other words, as I wrote then:
What they’re really trying to say, if we can read between the lines of their ravings, is that there is no science behind ergonomics. No science that says lifting 37,000 pounds a day might cause shoulder injuries, no science that says lifting ten thousand live chickens above your head every day might cause some kind of repetitive stress injury. (On the other hand, one labor observer remarked that it’s really much ado about nothing; OSHA didn’t bother to actually put any science into the wishy-washy guidelines.)
Well, OSHA has finally responded, according to the Bureau of National Affairs (no link) and not in the Coalition's favor:
OSHA pointed out that the information provided in the guidelines is supported by analyses conducted by the National Academy of Science and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as well as other sources.

The NAS study is especially important, the agency said, because it was congressionally mandated and is a comprehensive analysis of available studies from many disciplines, including epidemiology, tissue mechanobiology, biomechanics, and intervention studies.

Additionally, OSHA said, NAS standards are rigorous enough that the Office of Management and Budget has declared that NAS studies presumptively meet the performance standards of its Peer Review Bulletin.

The NAS report, OSHA said, represents the most comprehensive review of MSD scientific literature, while the NIOSH report looked at over 600 peer reviewed epidemiological studies. The NAS report, alone, OSHA added, lists over 50 pages of references.
This ringing defense of NIOSH's science is rather ironic considering that the Congressional repeal of the federal standard, supported and signed by the White House, was based on their alleged lack of confidence in the science behind ergonomics, as described in the NIOSH report.

One wonders why they're bothering. It's not like OSHA ergonomic citations are shaking the underpinnings of American business. In five years, federal OSHA has handed down less than twenty ergonomics citations -- not bad considering musculoskeletal injuries account for one-third of all work-related injuries and illnesses.

Maybe they won't rest while there's a single person left alive who still believes that there is even the remotest connection to heavy lifting and back injuries.

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