Mood is mixed at the fourth annual Applied Ergonomics Conference held in Orlando March 12-15…

Conference chair David Alexander of Auburn Engineering says it’s an exciting time to be an ergonomist, despite OSHA’s standard going down in flames: “I know and you know ergonomics works. Good ergonomics is good business. A eulogy is not necessary. Ergonomics is not dead, it’s alive and well.”

Most of the 700 attendees come from companies that have invested in ergonomics for years: GM, Ford, Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, etc. They’re here to benchmark and network.

Vendors put a positive spin on the OSHA washout. Can’t rely on government regs to drive your business, says one. Many companies in industry are doing the right thing with ergonomics for the right reasons, he says. “We’ve got a good product (software training) and that’s what will make or break us.”

Most openly upset are workers. 11 teams from plants around the U.S. are here competing for the “Ergo Cup”, showcasing their solutions to ergonomic problems.

OSHA’s failure “doesn’t affect us,” says one GM worker. “But people trying to get started with an ergo program will be screwed.”

“I was sad” to hear the news, says another. “Every time you take a step back it’s a bad thing.”

“It killed us, just killed us to hear the news,” says a third. “An average worker in a plant, not like the ones you see here, just gets killed by what they did. We need a standard.”

One worker says her plant is really into lean manufacturing. Fewer employees doing more work, more lifting and pulling. “We need ergonomics and I’m glad we have a program,” she says.

These workers fault Congress for failing to see the big picture. Politicians just see the short-term costs, they say, not bigger savings. “They don’t get it,” says one. “It’s common sense. When people get hurt, they’re not working.”

“I thought it was a joke when I heard what Congress did,” says another worker. “George W. don’t care about the worker.”

“We say, ‘Keep ‘em happy and keep ‘em working,” says an ergo specialist for a truck manufacturer.