Some Companies Find Ergonomics Is Good for Business

Article excerpt

James Knott isn't shedding any tears over Congress's decision this week to repeal workplace ergonomic rules.

The owner of the Riverdale Mills in Northbridge, Mass. has been outspoken about the rules, calling them "crazy, absolutely crazy."

It's not that he doesn't care about his workers' safety. Knott's ire -- along with many business owners across the country -- was directed at the complexity of the 600-some pages of rules, their trumping of workers compensation laws, and the idea that he wasn't doing enough to prevent repetitive stress injuries to his employees.

But for all the employers like Knott, union leaders and physicians say there are dozens more who could care less -- the precise reason why the rules, they say, were needed to begin with.

"This action went beyond adding insult to injury," said Nancy Lessin, the health and safety coordinator for the Massachusetts AFL- CIO. "It added injury to injury. There are way too many employers out there who have not and will not make these changes."

The ergonomics rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were aimed at preventing carpal-tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and other health problems associated with repetitive motion and awkward postures, both in the office and on the factory floor.

The OSHA regulations covered 102 million workers at 6.1 million work sites. The agency said the rules would prevent 4.6 million musculoskeletal disorders, and mean average annual savings to business of $9.1 billion in the first 10 years they were in effect.

Opponents of the regulations disagreed, saying the rules would cost as much as $100 billion a year in compliance expenses. Republicans and business owners alike were also furious that the rules called for employers to pay injured workers 90 percent of their salary for their first three months of missed worked.

President Bush has signaled he would sign the bill repealing the rules, passed largely along party lines. …