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NRCA's comments regarding OSHA's proposed ergonomics program rule, March 2000

On March 2, NRCA submitted comments to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opposing the agency's proposed ergonomics program. NRCA’s comments follow.



March 2, 2000

OSHA Docket Office
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., N.W.
Room N2625, Docket S777
Washington, D.C. 20210


The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) offers the following comments on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) proposed Ergonomics Program Rule.

NRCA represents more than 4,600 member companies in 51 countries. Its 3,500 U.S. contractor members represent 65 percent of all dollars spent for roofing work in the country. On average, the typical member contractor employs 35 people.

NRCA supports the claim made by other organizations, such as the National Coalition on Ergonomics, that there is not enough sound scientific evidence to indicate there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and the workplace.

In addition, NRCA cannot support the proposed standard because of the various other reasons, which follow.

The Proposed Rule is Flawed

NRCA believes many aspects of the standard are flawed. First, the standard is vague, creating a two-fold problem. Employers will not have clear understandings of whether they have achieved compliance with the standard because there are no clear, objective benchmarks provided. And because there are no benchmarks, compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) are forced to make subjective assessments of employers' attempts at improvement, which, regardless of such attempts, may result in serious citations.

The proposed rule requires employers to identify and control all ergonomic risk factors in their companies. To identify ergonomic risk factors, employers would have to evaluate the duration, frequency and magnitude of each risk factor and materially reduce it to a level where MSDs likely will not occur. A typical employer does not have the education necessary to make these determinations. Therefore, the standard would require an employer to hire someone with this ability, creating an undue financial burden.

Further the term "materially reduce" is never defined in the proposed rule. Not only would an employer not know how to reduce an MSD exposure, he could never be certain he had done so to the satisfaction of a CSHO.

Another serious flaw in the proposed rule relates to the Work Restriction Protection (WRP) provision. Here, OSHA would require employers to place injured workers who have been diagnosed by a physician on WRP. A contractor would be required to maintain 90 percent or 100 percent of an injured employee's salary for up to six months, depending whether the worker must be transferred to another job or placed on leave until he is capable of returning to his regular job.

WRPs create undue financial burdens on employers because companies are required to purchase workers' compensation insurance and pay premiums commensurate to the hazards. The proposed rule allows companies to offset the WRP with workers' compensation benefits. However, when an injury is not covered, such as a rotator-cuff injury in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a contractor must pay the entire WRP. Not only is a contractor required to pay the injured employee, but he will likely have to either hire another employee or pay overtime to existing employees to maintain productivity. Either way, this can have severe consequences for a small employer.

Trigger for Program Implementation

The proposed rule requires companies that have with manual-handling jobs or manufacturing jobs to implement a basic program, even if no injuries have occurred. A basic program consists of two elements: a process where a team consisting of management and employees identifies and evaluates workplace MSD hazards, and a method to disseminate and report such information.

In fact, it is necessary to implement these elements even though no injuries have occurred. Other OSHA standards, such as hearing conservation, hazard communication and respiratory protection, do not require implementation when exposures to loud noises, chemicals or airborne contaminants are not present.

Further, the standard requires an employer to implement additional program elements when one recordable MSD is reported. These elements include job-hazard analyses, hazard control and implementation, and program evaluation. This single-event trigger presents an undue burden. Even the CalOSHA ergonomics standard is triggered only when two identical MSD events are reported. Under the proposal, an employer would be required to implement a comprehensive ergonomics program when an injury is reported regardless of its validity. For example, if an employee injures his back playing baseball during the weekend and reports it as a work-related injury, his employer is required to implement the full program. The single trigger provides no relief from these events.

Applicability of the OSHA Standard to Construction

The preamble of the proposed rule states that this standard will not apply to the construction industry, but that it will be considered later. NRCA believes that a construction ergonomics standard would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. A roofing job site, for example, is a dynamic work environment where there is no stationary work.

Although the proposed rule does not apply to construction, this will impact the construction industry because there are many construction contractors who produce materials for construction jobs. Many small roofing contractors, for example, produce gutters and downspouts in shops. Presumably this type of activity would be covered by the standard. So an employee of a roofing contractor may be covered by the standard when he works in the shop, but not covered when he works on a roof. We think it would be helpful to explicitly state that the rule will not apply to construction employers regardless of the type of work their employees perform.

Conclusion

Because NRCA believes OSHA's proposed rule is vague with no clear objective benchmarks, employers will be exposed to serious violations regardless of their attempts to provide a safe workplaces.

It also creates a tremendous financial burden by requiring employers to hire additional staff, pay additional benefits and implement ergonomics programs even when no injury has occurred.

Finally, though OSHA does not intend to regulate the construction industry, it does so indirectly as a result of the standard's applicability to contractor operations that produce materials for use or installation at job sites.

NRCA appreciates and shares OSHA's concerns regarding MSD-related injuries. However, this proposed standard will do little, if anything, to prevent those injuries. MSD-related injuries are unique to each work environment and, as a result, OSHA's approach does not address the problem.

Sincerely,

NRCA
William A. Good
Executive Vice President



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