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NRCA's comments about OSHA's ergonomics standard, August 2001

On Aug. 3, NRCA submitted comments to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opposing the agency's proposed ergonomics program. NRCA’s comments follow.



Aug. 3, 2001

OSHA Docket Office
Docket Number S-777A
United States Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

RE: Written submission for public forums on ergonomics

Dear Sir/Madam:

In response to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) June 12th, Federal Register notice, 66 FED. Reg. 33,578, Request for Comments, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) submits the following comments regarding possible approaches to addressing ergonomics hazards in the workplace. NRCA is committed to assisting OSHA in seeking a resolution to the ergonomics issue. The association has submitted comments and statements in the past on this issue and will continue to participate until a resolution is agreed upon.

NRCA is an association of roofing, roof deck and waterproofing contractors. Founded in 1886, it now has 5,000 members and estimates that NRCA contractors perform more than 60 percent of all roofing installations in the United States. More than 90 percent of roofing contracting firms are considered small businesses; many are family-run where family members work side by side to make their companies successful. NRCA contractors are privately held companies, and the average member employs 35 people during peak season with sales of approximately $3.5 million per year.

NRCA is a member of the National Coalition on Ergonomics (NCE) and, as such, has submitted comments through the NCE. This submission constitutes additional comments by NRCA.

What is an ergonomics injury?

As stated in the NCE comments:

"Ergonomics Injury" is a misnomer that cannot be defined for a regulatory purpose; any OSHA regulation must be limited to objectively diagnosable conditions.

In essence, there is no consensus of the definitions of "ergonomics injury" or "musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)" within the scientific community. For example, so-called "ergonomics injuries" often can be labeled "repetitive motion injuries," "repetitive stress injuries," or "cumulative trauma disorders." Per NCE's comments, there is wide disagreement about the definition of these concepts.

Furthermore, subjective symptoms related to the stress and strain of physical labor in the construction industry typically are impossible to detect by objective medical examination. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission recently confirmed that the vast majority of MSD reports "cannot be linked to any detectable tissue or body damage." (Secretary of Labor v. Beverly Enterprises, Inc., 19 OSH Cas. (BNA) 1161, 2000 OSAHRC 121, at *113 (Oct. 27, 2000).

NRCA cannot endorse a uniform definition for an "ergonomics injury." Small-business owners invest a great deal of time and resources in their employees and, therefore, it is in their best interest to protect them from injuries of any kind. A uniform definition of an ergonomics injury could actually compromise employer-sponsored safety programs designed to abate tangible risks. This could have a negative effect on companies and their employees. Encouraging effective employer-sponsored safety programs is crucial because small-business owners are in a better position than the Federal Government to protect and care for their employees.

How can OSHA, employers and employees determine whether an ergonomics injury was caused by work-related activities or nonwork-related activities; and if the ergonomics injury was caused by a combination of the two, what is the appropriate response?

Because there is no consensus as to what an "ergonomics injury" or "MSD" is, it would be impossible for OSHA to prescribe an appropriate response. This is one of the main reasons NRCA supported the Ergonomics Rule Disapproval Resolution rescinding OSHA's ergonomics standard. Determining to what degree stresses and strains are work-related is a matter of subjective opinion that is best guided by common sense, not federal regulations.

What are the most useful and cost-effective types of government involvement to address workplace ergonomics injuries?

Because of a lack of scientific data supporting a uniform, one-size-fits-all approach to regulating so-called "ergonomics injuries," OSHA should urge employers to adopt voluntary best practices that have developed organically within their respective industries. To do so, OSHA should be a repository for such information. OSHA also should reprogram a larger portion of its budget towards outreach through technical assistance for all employers and consultation for small business.

With a voluntary best practices program, OSHA can provide industry specific examples and serve as a medium for industries to exchange information on the latest and most innovative worker safety methods. Most important, a voluntary best practices approach will provide OSHA with an opportunity to enter into partnerships with small businesses and with employers and employees produce healthier and safer work environments. This is the basis of NRCA's current partnership with OSHA, the Roofing Industry Partnership Program for Safety and Health.

Conclusion

NRCA members view employees as their most valuable asset, and with the acute work force shortage affecting the service industries, preventing injuries is paramount. Small-business owners are in a better position than the Federal Government to protect and care for their employees and that is why NRCA strongly urges OSHA to adopt a voluntary best practices approach.

For these reasons, NRCA is opposed to S.598/H.R.1241 to provide for the reissuance of a rule relating to ergonomics. It would be poor public policy to establish a date certain of two years after the enactment of this legislation for an ergonomics standard when there is no reason to believe there will be a consensus on the definition of what an "ergonomics injury" is within that time frame.

In summary, NRCA supports voluntary best practices, technical assistance and consultation and opposes regulations and guidelines. NRCA looks forward to a continuing dialogue with OSHA as the ergonomics issue develops. Should you have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Jennifer G. Criscuolo
Director of federal affairs





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