Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Labor, Business Set Stage as Ergo Hearings Begin

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Labor, Business Set Stage as Ergo Hearings Begin

Article excerpt

The opposing views of big labor and big business marked the opening day of public hearings March 13 in Washington, D.C. on OSHA's proposed ergonomics program standard.

As a panel of nine OSHA experts fielded questions from more than 20 business and labor representatives, it often seemed as though the agency was holding two hearings simultaneously on the controversial proposal.

Approximately 1,100 individuals signed up to testify over nine weeks of public hearings in Washington, Chicago and Portland, Ore. In the first two days of the process, interested parties had the chance to fire questions at the people most responsible for writing the rule. Heading up the OSHA panel was Marthe Kent, acting director of the directorate of health standards programs, who emphasized that the standard was still only a proposal, and the agency welcomed public comments.

Employer groups, represented by attorneys in most cases, slammed OSHA's public hearing procedure, attacked the proposed standard for being hopelessly vague and appeared to be primarily interested in building a case to take OSHA to court if the agency does not drop plans to issue a final rule.

Labor unions, on the other hand, sent a cadre of safety and health specialists to query the OSHA panel. They had a prearranged set of questions intended to shore up the disputed scientific basis for the proposal and to reveal possible loopholes in the proposal's protections for workers.

Quite a few non-OSHA eyebrows were raised early on when attorney Baruch Fellner pointed out that there was not a physician on the OSHA panel to defend the medical science of the proposal. OSHA, however, placed three lawyers on the panel, underscoring the litigious nature of the hearing.

Feliner, who represented the Rubber Manufacturers Association, spent much of his time questioning the procedural fairness of the hearing. …

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