Employers relieved to see the end of ergonomics rules

Did you hear that sigh of relief across the state of Michigan? Gregory P. Ripple of Miller Johnson in Grand Rapids says that’s the sound of just about every employer he’s ever met; they’re thankful that the Governor has put his foot down and said no to ergonomics rules.

Gov. Rick Snyder on March 22 signed into law a bill that prohibits the state from forcing businesses to comply with what his office described as “burdensome and unnecessary workplace ergonomics rules.”

Senate bill 20, sponsored by State Sen. Rick Jones, amended the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act to prohibit a department, board or commission authorized to promulgate rules from mandating workplace ergonomic standards. The bill does, however, allow the state at the request of an employer to provide guidance, best practices information and assistance to the employer for the implementation of voluntary ergonomics programs.

“I make presentations to employers all the time, and when I’m done speaking that has been the first question they ask: What’s going on with ergonomics?” Ripple said.
He’s been happy to tell them: Nothing.

“This kills the ergonomics movement in Michigan. It puts employers’ minds at rest,” he said.
It’s been on their minds for more than a decade.

In the 1990s, the federal OSHA decided they were going to have an ergonomics standard, explained Ripple.

“They published a rule that the Chamber of Commerce called the most burdensome regulation in the history of regulation,” he said. “It was set to go into effect in 2001. But we elected a new president, and a new Congress. Pres. Bush killed ergonomics. And Congress passed a law to rescind, but also said OSHA was not to do this, going down that road without Congress’ permission.”

Still, Ripple said, there’s no doubt that ergonomic injuries and illnesses are common. So MIOSHA started working on ergonomics rules for Michigan. Right now only California has rules addressing ergonomics.

The MIOSHA standard was only a page and a half long, and according to Ripple, wasn’t all that bad or complicated. But it would have required training.

“We would have had to assess the ergonomic risks of every position, then eliminate, reduce or control them,” Ripple said. “Then, step two was to train on what ergonomic risk factors are. Then each employee would have to have some kind of response. Sometimes these small rules are the most problematic.”

Still, as opposed as some of his clients were to the MIOSHA proposal, more and more businesses are calling Ripple to ask about ergonomics training.

“They aren’t forced. They just want employees to be more comfortable and to cut down on the worker’s compensation claims,” he said. “Mostly they just wanted to find out how to do ergonomic training, and some were worried that if they did, would that establish some kind of evidence if someone was later injured or got sick?”


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