At the ergonomics summit in Chicago, Jan. 8-9, NIOSH director Linda Rosenstock called the issue a "long and winding road."At the ergonomics summit in Ergonomics: Effective Workplace Practices and Programs brought 1,000 labor, business, academia and government representatives to the Windy City, mid-blizzard, to revitalize the issue as a necessary component to safety and health. The summit's sponsors, OSHA and NIOSH, want ergonomics out of politics and back into the realm of safety.
"It's time for the rhetoric to stop. It's time for us to be safety professionals again," stressed Hank Lick, industrial hygiene manager at the Ford Motor Company.
What's the strategy? NIOSH has priorities in three areas, says Rosenstock. The organization plans to get the word out on the magnitude of the problem-reported cases have gone up 800 percent in the last decade. NIOSH also aims to conduct more research and promote prevention programs. OSHA's Greg Watchman assured attendees that the agency will continue Joe Dear's efforts. The government doesn't always have the answers and wants to hear what pros are doing with ergonomics, he said.
But the conference, a full two days of ergonomics case study presentations, left attendees wondering when to expect a standard-something they feel is key to company motivation, says Roberta Carson of Ergofit, Inc. in Newton, Mass. OSHA Chief Joe Dear didn't attend and his stand-in, Watchman, left out talk of deadlines and dates, but mentioned a standard is necessary to educate workers and employers.
Another ergonomics conference, titled A Discussion of the Science and Policy Issues, is scheduled for June 17-20 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Some Chicago-conference attendees, like Drew Congleton of Bodybuilt Seating, predict this will be the place for experienced pros to converge and tackle the standard issue.
A new standard on methylene chloride was announced by OSHA on Jan. 9.The standard will reduce methylene chloride exposure limits to an eight-hour, time-weighted average PEL of 25 ppm and a short-term exposure level of 125 ppm, and a 12.5 ppm action level. The previous standard had a 500 ppm PEL with a 1000 ppm ceiling limit.
OSHA expects the change to save 34 lives a year and cut the risk of cancer from methylene chloride exposure by 97 percent by tightening exposure limits, according to Joe Dear. About 237,500 workers use the chemical to clean metal parts, strip paint, and produce foam cushions.
However, costs for compliance with the standard average $101 million a year or $426 for each worker. OSHA has determined costs will equal about three percent of profits. Organizations in furniture refinishing, polyurethane foam manufacturing, and construction can cover the costs with price increases of less than two percent, according to an OSHA statement.
To reduce impact on smaller businesses, OSHA has guidelines for compliance according to facility size. Employers with less than 20 employees have 300 days to comply with initial monitoring regulations, three years for engineering controls, and one year for other provisions. Employers with 20-99 employees have 210 days to complete initial monitoring, two years for engineering controls, and 270 days for other provisions. Other employers have to be in compliance within 120 days for initial monitoring, one year for engineering controls, and 180 days for all other provisions.