It didn’t take long for those with a stake in OSHA’s ergonomics standard to weigh in with reactions to the final rule’s release on November 14.

In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers got a jump and asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the standard six days before it was even published. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several other business groups marched to court to challenge the standard the day before it was officially released.

Reactions to the rule demonstrate just how divisive the entire decade-long process of writing ergo requirements has been. Here’s a sampling of views:

AFL-CIO President John Sweeny called the standard “the most important worker safety action developed in the agency’s history.”

“It’s a political payoff. And it’s a scandal,” said Mike Baroody, NAM’s senior vice president for policy, communications, and public affairs.

“OSHA should be commended for its persistent efforts,” said Mary Foley, president of the American Nurses Association.

“OSHA’s refusal to listen to reason as they rushed ahead with this ill-advised and illegal proposal is an example of irresponsible government at its worst,” said Thomas Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

What happens next? The standard goes into effect days before the Clinton administration leaves Washington — January 16 — and is to be phased in over four years. The first compliance deadline is October 14, 2001, when employers must begin to distribute information on the standard to employees and must begin to receive and respond to reports of related injuries.

Whether compliance dates hold firm depend on several wild cards:

  • The outcome of the presidential election — George W. Bush’s campaign platform included a promise to withdraw OSHA’s proposed ergo standard; Al Gore supported the need for the rule. If Bush finally wins, he could take steps to suspend the standard pending a review by his Labor Department appointees. Ronald Reagan took similar action on OSHA standards covering noise and chemical labeling soon after his inauguration in 1981. But take note: those rules on hearing conservation and hazard communication did become law a few years later.

  • Congress is set to reconvene in early December to finish up budget business, including funds for the Department of Labor. Depending on who is the president-elect, lawmakers could try to restrict OSHA’s implementation of the ergo rule.

  • The court challenges will take time to play out, but could postpone or scuttle the standard. That’s what happened when OSHA set new permissible exposure limits for hundreds of chemicals in the last days of the Reagan administration in January, 1989. In 1992, a federal court of appeals ruled that OSHA had not sufficiently explained how the new PELs would reduce a significant health risk, and how compliance with the standard was technically and economically feasible. The same issues are being raised in lawsuits against the ergo standard.