Cautious optimism. Disappointment. Disgust. That about covers the range of reactions to OSHA's new plan for attacking workplace ergonomics problems, which relies heavily on voluntary guidelines and selective enforcement.

  • Business leaders who had opposed earlier OSHA attempts at mandatory rules were generally pleased. Jerry Jasinowski, head of the National Association of Manufacturers, called it far less disruptive of the workplace, but feared overzealous inspections and unwarranted lawsuits.

    "We have concern about how the stepped-up enforcement will play out," said Randy Johnson, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who called OSHA's plan reasoned and balanced.

  • Leaders of the professional ranks, representing the American Society of Safety Engineers and the American Industrial Hygiene Association, mixed disappointment with stabs at positive spins.

    ASSE President Eddie Greer said his group wanted a workable, reasonable standard, and still believes standards-setting is the way to go. Guidelines are too open to interpretation and will end up contested in court, he said. Greer urged safety and health pros to get involved in the American National Standards Institute Z365 standards committee's efforts to write private sector standards that will provide broad guidance on solving ergonomic problems.

    AIHA said it stands by its position that a standard is needed and is preferable to guidelines. But since it's "obvious that an ergonomics standard is not going to be enacted anytime soon," the group called OSHA's plan a good first step. Guidelines and compliance assistance can help employers solve ergo problems, said AIHA President Henry Lick. "Even though we are disappointed that OSHA did not take more aggressive action, AIHA takes the position that all sides should consider the good that can come from this action," said Lick.

  • Union officials were far less optimistic. Guidelines won't do enough to protect workers, said Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. "Congressional action is clearly needed now," he said.

    AFL-CIO President John Sweeney blasted away at OSHA's plan, arguing that it foregoes an enforceable standard for vague guidelines and a cumbersome case-by-case enforcement plan that both lack clearly identified industry targets. "Not even the highest risk industries with known problems were identified," he said. Sweeney also said it is a "mystery" how OSHA will put the plan in place, since the Bush administration has proposed cutting the agency's enforcement and training budget by more than $10 million and job safety research funding by $20 million.