The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, Washington, DC) has abandoned its ambitious plan to enact an ergonomics "rule." Instead, the organization has shifted its priorities to developing "guidelines" for reducing injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and lower back pain that can result from repeated motions at work.

In early April, OSHA unveiled a new ergonomics plan that focuses on industry-targeted guidelines in lieu of regulations. The new OSHA policy comes one year after the controversial Clinton administration ergonomics rule was repealed in Congress shortly after George Bush became president.

John Henshaw, OSHA administrator, claims that a voluntary approach to ergonomics will work better than the rescinded Clinton rules because it will be adaptable to specific industries and will cost companies less to carry out. By the end of the year, OSHA will begin issuing industry-specific guidelines.

Labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO (Washington, DC), criticize the new OSHA plan, while business organizations, such as the National Association of Manufacturers (Washington, DC), applaud the move. Here’s what various groups have to say about OSHA’s new ergonomics plan:

National Association of Manufacturers

"The Department of Labor’s new focus on education and training to prevent ergonomics injuries promises to be more effective than reliance on new regulation and litigation, and far less disruptive of the workplace. The Labor Department’s determination to advance research into ergonomics and aggressively disseminate information to employers and their employees is the most effective way to reduce injuries related to repetitive motion. Creation of a national advisory board will assure that this important subject receives the attention it deserves, and that the decline in ergonomics injuries documented in recent years will continue."


"After over a year of delay the Administration has announced a meaningless measure that yet again delays action and provides workers no protection against ergonomic hazards--the nation’s biggest job safety problem. The new ‘plan’ does not outline an enforceable ergonomic standard--only a stated intention to develop voluntary guidelines for selected industries that are not even identified. Its enforcement ‘component’ also fails to identify industries targeted for inspection, even the highest risk industries. Instead of action to fix dangerous workplace hazards, the plan relies on voluntary assistance and passive outreach tools such as new Web sites. The plan does not call for any immediate action."

National Coalition on Ergonomics

"Since the ultimate goal is safer workplaces, a multi-pronged approach that provides for easy access to the latest information and best practices is the best way to achieve quick, effective results. Allowing for cooperation and flexibility and focusing on results instead of just punishment will encourage companies to continue their innovative and effective workplace safety efforts--efforts that have resulted in significant improvements in safety and health. These innovations have borne significant results as evidenced by the recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing all-time low injury rates."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

"With researchers on all sides scratching their heads about the causes of these types of injuries, we must take the time to craft rules without sacrificing science. It remains to be seen how new and increased enforcement under these guidelines will play out, but overall the Department of Labor has proposed a balanced approach. The Bush administration has rightfully put science ahead of politics in laying out its proposal on ergonomics. The business community will be fully engaged in every aspect of this debate going forward and will oppose legislation requiring OSHA to issue a mandatory regulation."

National Safety Council

"In its announcement, OSHA declared its intent to establish four fundamental components to its plans to address ergonomics hazards in the workplace--guidelines, enforcement, compliance assistance and research. We are optimistic that this approach, rigorously pursued, will produce effective, targeted results. While we recognize and respect that many stakeholders are understandably dissatisfied with OSHA’s plan to issue guidelines rather than regulations, it is important to note that other OSHA guidelines have been effective in reducing worker injuries. The real measure of success will be in the comprehensive nature of the guidelines and the extent to which they are communicated, implemented and enforced."

American Industrial Hygiene Association

"The AIHA stands by its position that a standard is needed and would be preferable to guidelines. However, based upon the announcement by OSHA, it is obvious that an ergonomics standard is not going to be enacted anytime soon. AIHA therefore believes that the proposal is a good first step on OSHA’s part and hopes that the effort can serve as the outreach that has been needed as OSHA continues to move forward. This approach is not a perfect solution to this complex problem. However, all sides should consider the good that can come from this action and the lessons learned that could eventually lead to a fair and effective ergonomics standard. Let’s give it a chance so long as all parties, and that includes OSHA, are willing to compromise and truly determine what is good health and safety."