Michigan OSHA Ceases Work on Ergonomics Rule as Sought by Newly Elected Governor

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The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ceased work on its ergonomics proposal following direction from the state's new governor, MIOSHA Director Doug Kalinowski told BNA Jan. 31.

Industry associations within Michigan have opposed MIOSHA's plan to develop a regulation for general industry, pointing to studies that said such a rule could cost employers millions of dollars in an already weak economy.

A joint commission approved a draft rule in 2009, and MIOSHA had been awaiting a regulatory impact statement for the draft that is being developed by an outside contractor before moving forward (39 OSHR 60, 1/22/09).

Newly elected Gov. Rick Snyder (R), however, promised to stop the rulemaking in his State of the State address Jan. 20.

“On the topic of regulatory reform, we will review existing and proposed regulations to create a better environment for economic success while maintaining our duty to protect our citizens and businesses,” Snyder said. “We will partner with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to stop the effort to establish mandatory and overreaching regulations on ergonomic standards that have been discussed for the past few years.”

Had the agency finalized the rule, Michigan would have become the second state, along with California, to have an ergonomics regulation. The U.S. Congress rescinded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's ergonomics rule under the Congressional Review Act before it could take effect in 2001.

The draft rule would have established minimum requirements for all general industry employers to train employees on the hazards of poor body alignment and proper technique when making repetitive on-the-job motions. It would have required employers to assess ergonomic hazards and eliminate them to the extent feasible. It would not have applied to construction, agriculture, mining, or domestic employment.

The cessation of Michigan's ergonomics rulemaking comes as OSHA announced Jan. 25 it would temporarily withdraw its own proposal to add a separate column for musculoskeletal disorders to Form 300, which employers use to record injuries and illnesses (41 OSHR 67, 1/27/11).

Reaction from Unions, Industry Split.

State labor unions and industry associations had opposing reactions to MIOSHA's decision to stop work on the rule.

“The action taken is unfortunate, it's going to put off our efforts to continue to keep Michigan work sites safer,” Mark Gaffney, president of the Michigan State AFL-CIO, told BNA Jan. 31. “We did not think this was onerous. In fact, some companies had testified at committee hearings that they had saved in worker's compensation costs by implementing ergonomics programs.”

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, however, hailed the decision to stop development of rule they said would costs state businesses millions of dollars.

“If Michigan had moved forward with this mandatory, one-size-fits-all requirement it would have made Michigan quite uncompetitive,” Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources at the state Chamber of Commerce, told BNA Jan. 31.

Bill Would Prohibit Future Proposal.

Legislation (S.B. 20, H.B. 4128) that would prohibit MIOSHA from promulgating an ergonomics regulation was introduced to both the state Senate and House of Representatives Jan. 19-20.

Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-46th District) introduced the House bill, which was referred to the Committee on Regulatory Reform, and Sen. Rick Jones (R-24th District) introduced the Senate bill, which was referred to the Committee on Economic Development. The bills are identical.

Michigan's Republican-controlled Senate passed similar legislation in 2009, but it failed in the Democrat-controlled House. Republicans now hold a 63-47 advantage in the House and a 22-16 advantage in the Senate.

Block told BNA the Michigan Chamber of Commerce would support the bills to prevent a future administration from considering an ergonomics proposal in Michigan without specific permission from the state Legislature.

“We don't want to see regulations that go beyond the federal requirements,” she said. “We feel like this bill is necessary to drive a stake in the heart of this rulemaking.”

By Greg Hellman

S.B. 20 is available at http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2011-SIB-0020.pdf.