In response to concern about workplace injuries, Michigan plans to institute new state regulations targeting repetitive-stress job injuries. Under the proposed rules, employers would be required to offer ergonomic training and work to correct reported injuries. State regulators would have the power to punish employers for repeated worker injuries. Critics are concerned that the rules will place another financial burden on Michigan’s already struggling economy.
California is the only other state with similar regulations, despite the fact that repetitive-stress job injuries are estimated by OSHA to cost America more than $20 billion annually, or about one-third of the total workers’ compensation costs paid by employers. “It’s a significant issue, even though the standard is fairly minimal,” said Doug Kalinowski, director of MIOSHA. “It’s been very contentious.”
In 2001, repetitive-stress injury regulations proposed by federal regulators were estimated to cost employers $5 billion. Those regulations were blocked by Congress. Michigan’s Small Business Association is concerned that the costs of training and reporting procedures will place a significant burden on small businesses and make it harder for them to compete nationally. Larger companies that have ergonomics programs in place would be exempted under the proposed rules.
Manufacturers are similarly concerned. “It’s a pretty broad issue and there are a lot of costs involved,” noted Amy Show of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. “We don’t know what true costs are going to be until we know how strict the department is going to be in enforcing this.”
The proposed rules would only apply to general industry. Construction, agriculture, mining and domestic employment are specifically excluded. But the construction industry and labor representatives believe that if the rules are adopted, it will only be a matter of time before they are expanded to include construction. “There are many within the building trades, or ironworkers, that suffer from repetitive-motion injuries,” said William Borch, president of Ironworkers Local 25 in Saginaw, Michigan and one of the labor representatives who reviewed the proposed rules.
“The problem is that … these types of injuries are not an imminent danger [to life], even though they can be career-ending types of injuries and cause long-term pain and suffering,” Borch said. Considering the risk to workers, Borch felt the proposed rules provided minimum standards. “It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask,” he said.
Advocates of the proposed rules argue that the implementation of ergonomics creates a safer work environment, increases productivity, minimizes downtime and decreases workers’ compensation costs — all formidable inducements to embracing ergonomics.