A new initiative in Michigan could presage an expected federal push to mandate ergonomic equipment and procedures in business and industry. Last week, Michigan state regulators unanimously voted to advance a proposed state-wide ergonomic standard. Unless blocked by the state legislature, as a similar initiative was in 2006, the new standard could take effect this year.
If implemented, Michigan would follow California, becoming the second state in the U.S. to implement its own ergonomic rules. While the federal government has established ergonomic guidelines for many industries, they are currently voluntary, although that is expected to change. During his campaign, President Obama promised to enact tougher workplace safety standards early in his administration.
With the unanimous support of the state’s General Industry Safety Standards Commission and the Occupational Health Standards Commission, Michigan political analysts believe that, this time around, any efforts to block the proposed state-wide ergonomic standard will fail. Supporters of ergonomic equipment and procedures point to their proven record in reducing preventable injuries that each year cost businesses millions of dollars in medical and insurance costs, worker’s compensation claims, and lost man-hours. According to Michigan’s Worker’s Compensation Bureau, about 40% of worker’s compensation claims paid in 2006 and 2007 were related to preventable ergonomic injuries.
The proven ability of ergonomically-designed material handling equipment to prevent repetitive stress and musculoskeletal injuries and reduce concomitant production and human resources costs is well documented by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation. While opponents have expressed concern that Michigan’s ergonomic imperative will increase the cost of doing business in a state already struggling to survive economically, statistical and experiential evidence show that return on investment in ergonomic equipment is generally realized in the first year of ownership.
Michigan’s proposed standard would “assess risk factors that may contribute to work-related musculoskeletal disorders and establish a minimal rule for training,” according to the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. The standard will only apply to general industry businesses, not construction. Public hearings must now be held by Michigan’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) before the rule can be formally adopted, possibly as early as this summer.