After years of planning, the U.S. Senate approved a bill last month that gives the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the right to establish ergonomic standards for general industry and make these guidelines into law. While some newspaper executives applaud the move, others denounce it, saying the standards could force them to spend millions of dollars a year on compliance.
"It's an issue on which many papers are naturally split," says Donald Hensel, manager of environmental and safety services for the Newspaper Association of America. "I don't think there's a paper in the country that doesn't want its employees to be safe, but, at the same time, some of these smaller papers might have to invest a lot of money in making sure their operations are up to snuff. Budgeting for something like that, when you never thought you'd have to, can be a real challenge."
A number of ergonomics experts say newspapers should have expected these standards. The National Safety Council and OSHA have been working toward establishing these standards in all industries for most of the decade. Their reasoning? Officials from both organizations claim the standards are necessary to reduce the number of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, a leading cause of workers' compensation costs and injuries that result in days away from work.
The National Safety Council released the first draft of these standards in 1993, and the proposed guidelines have gone relatively unchanged since then.
A draft of the guidelines found on the OSHA Web site (http://www.osha.gov) proposes that organizations in every industry adopt or establish a basic ergonomics program to make the workplace safer for everyone. Components of this basic program include:
Health and risk-factor surveillance
Training and education
In theory, most newspaper experts agree with such a program but, in practice, many say OSHA's proposed ergonomics guidelines will force them to hire physical or occupational therapists to oversee parts of these programs.
For most of the larger papers, this is not a problem. Papers such as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have had ergonomic coordinators for years. For smaller papers, however, the guidelines present more of a challenge. How will these papers afford paying for the new programs? How will they know how to set them up? According to Cliff Ward, managing editor at The Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Ill., none of the answers is very clear. Ward says his paper spends about 800 dollars on ergonomic equipment for each employee, and, already that figure is too high. …