OSHA Grant Equals Ergonomics Training

The Environmental Research and Education Foundation, and the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), both Washington, D.C. based, are working to decrease injury rates among waste industry workers by increasing workers' knowledge about how to safely perform their duties.

Recently, the foundation and EIA were awarded $192,000 in funding from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, D.C., to provide safety and health training programs for waste industry workers.

OSHA will allocate the $192,000 in funding to the foundation to conduct training programs throughout the United States. The foundation will receive $59,000 in the first installment of federal funding in October. Each year, the foundation will reapply for the additional funding.

“The training sessions will be taught by experienced safety professionals in the solid waste field and will take place at WasteExpo, EIA meetings and events, and other industry meetings and conferences,” says Michael Cagney, president of the foundation.

The first training seminar is scheduled to take place in January 2001 in Houston. Another session will take place at WasteExpo 2001 in Chicago next April. Additional seminars will take place in conjunction with EIA meetings and events in the Northeast and Southeast.

Seminars will include a “train-the-trainer” component, to maximize the number of employees that receive training as a result of the grant.

During the four-year program, the foundation expects to train 1,300 employees and 240 supervisors and safety employees. With the train-the-trainer component, another 4,800 employees also can receive ergonomics training from their supervisors who will have been educated about safety. All waste industry employees, regardless of whether they are EIA members, can participate in the training programs.

The foundation also will supervise a consultant who will use the funding to develop the best management practices concerning how companies can prevent ergonomic injuries from occurring among employees.

Finally, the foundation will set up a database on EIA's website, www.envasns.org, with tips on how to identify ergonomic hazards, prevent injuries and comply with federal regulations.

“By reaching out to all segments of the industry, training employees on how to recognize injury risk factors and sharing information and solutions through the database, all employees in the entire solid waste industry can potentially benefit,” Cagney says.

According to OSHA, work-related musculoskeletal disorders account for one-third of all occupational injuries and illnesses. In the waste industry, workers in physically demanding jobs report that ailments such as sprains, strains and muscle tears equal one-third of lost workday cases.

The solid waste industry is seeking an exemption from OSHA's proposed ergonomics standards similar to the exemptions granted for workers in the construction, agriculture and maritime industries.

Like businesses in those industries, waste companies have little control over work sites and environmental conditions such as weather. Similarly, they frequently use short-term workers and their employees perform work in a range of uncontrollable conditions.

The solid waste industry has recognized that working conditions can contribute to ergonomics injuries. Employers take steps to minimize risk, including educating workers, providing the proper equipment, using automated technologies and setting forth weight limits for individual lifts.

OSHA has awarded 53 grants to help nonprofit organizations educate workers about safety issues and ergonomics injuries in their respective industries. The funding comes from OSHA's Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which awards funds to nonprofit organizations to conduct workplace safety and health training and education.

Meantime, the foundation has raised more than $10 million and funded more than $1 million in projects since it was founded seven years ago, including three $12,000 annual scholarships for graduate work in environmental science.

Also, the foundation has worked closely with EIA and its members on safety issues and recently funded an update to the EIA Manual of Recommended Safety Practices, a 400-page comprehensive guide for safety managers in the waste industry.

Jenny Heumann is the Environmental Industry Associations' public affairs manager.