Ergonomic Regulations Exemption Sought

In late 1999, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, D.C., proposed ergonomic regulations that, if imposed, would require all solid waste handlers and manufacturers to develop ergonomics programs to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in workers.

The solid waste industry has requested an exemption from the proposed regulations because there is little data available concerning the regulations' feasibility and cost-effective controls. However, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF) and the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), both based in Washington, D.C., aren't taking any chances.

Recently, the organizations applied for $192,000 in federal funding to execute a proposed ergonomic program that would benefit the solid waste industry in several ways.

First, experienced safety professionals would teach companies how to avoid ergonomic injuries. Next, EREF and the EIA would supervise outside consultants to develop management strategies for preventing ergonomic injuries within the solid waste industry. Finally, the project would allow for an EIA website database that would include tips on how to identify ergonomic hazards, prevent injuries and comply with federal regulations.

The application for funding is under OSHA's Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which awards funds to nonprofit organizations to conduct safety and health training and education in the workplace.

In September, OSHA is expected to award EREF and EIA the requested amount, payable during the next four years. The proposed project would include bimonthly training programs to take place throughout the United States starting in January 2001. Training sessions will take place at WasteExpo, EIA meetings and other industry events and conferences.

This proposed project "could potentially benefit all solid waste workers and help companies reduce injuries and workers compensation costs," Foundation President Michael J. Cagney says.

"This application represents what effective associations and foundations can and should do," EIA President and CEO Bruce Parker adds. "We hope to leverage OSHA's funding and the industry's safety expertise to cause a cultural change in how companies deal with ergonomic hazards."

Last May, at an OSHA-sponsored hearing, representatives from the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C., and the Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC), Washington, D.C., testified in opposition to the proposed ergonomic regulations. NSWMA and WASTEC already provided written comments to OSHA this past March.

NSWMA renewed its request for an industry exemption, testifying that the solid waste industry cannot control many factors such as the collection employees' worksites, where and how refuse is set out for collection and the refuse's weight, or environmental conditions, such as the weather.

NSWMA also pointed out that OSHA's regulations could give some public sector operators an unfair competitive advantage because public sector operators are not subject to OSHA regulations and compliance costs.

WASTEC asked OSHA to withdraw the ergonomics proposal. WASTEC's principal concern is the work restriction protection provision, which grants employees paid time-off or lighter duty if they have MSDs. WASTEC members are concerned that this may encourage employees to claim injuries to receive paid time off or light duty. OSHA's proposal duplicates and interferes with state workers' compensation programs that already are in place, added Jack Legler, executive vice president for WASTEC.

Already, OSHA has proposed to exempt the construction, agriculture and maritime industries, citing a lack of industry data and a limited control of working conditions.

NSWMA stated that the solid waste industry possesses little data on MSDs and how they can be allayed, especially because automation is not always feasible in combating MSDs, and automated equipment cannot be used in many communities.

The Municipal Waste Management Association, part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Washington, D.C., the West Coast Refuse and Recycling Coalition, and the Solid Waste Association of North America, Silver Spring, Md., also called upon OSHA to exempt the solid waste industry from the proposed ergonomic regulations.