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
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
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.
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.