Safety in the balance: Congress seeks action as OSHA drags feet on regs

SAFETY FIRST With no clear ergonomic standards in place, NLMBDA is concerned about actions taken against LBM dealers.

Back injuries, shoulder sprains and other musculoskeletal injuries in lumberyards commanded the attention of Congress this summer during budget deliberations for the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Members of the House Committee on Appropriations expressed dissatisfaction with OSHA’s progress in developing ergonomic guidelines for 13 industries, one of them being “lumber/building material–retail.” The Appropriations Committee also directed OSHA to step up its enforcement of ergonomic hazards, which it described as “the leading cause of workplace injuries.”

OSHA has been working on ergonomic standards since 2002, when a special committee recommended that guidelines be established for a total of 16 industries, including lumberyards and millwork/plywood/structural manufacturers. So far, OSHA has completed standards for only three: poultry, nursing and grocery. The last one was issued in 2004.

The Appropriations Committee recommended $503 million for OSHA’s fiscal year 2008 budget, a 3.3 percent hike over last year. But a report accompanying the funding bill, H.R. 3043, contained a number of directives on how the money should be spent.

“Report language doesn’t have the full effect of law, but [it’s] usually taken pretty seriously,” said Sarah Owen, director of government affairs for the National Lumber and Building Materials Dealers Association. The NLBMDA sent letters to every member of the Appropriations Committee back in June, cautioning against stepped up OSHA enforcement against building material dealers in the absence of clear ergonomic standards that lumberyards can follow.

H.R. 3043 was adopted by the House in July and now awaits a Senate vote. The bill appropriates funding for a number of programs that fall under the departments of labor, health and human services, and education.

Another provision in H.R. 3043 deals with who will pay for personal protective equipment like hard hats, back harnesses, safety footwear and work gloves. OSHA has indicated that it will issue a rule mandating employer responsibility, but the committee is getting impatient with OSHA’s “lack of progress” on this issue, adding, “The rule is particularly important for Hispanic workers who disproportionately work in low-wage hazardous jobs and have a much higher fatality rate than other groups of workers.”

OSHA has been studying the issue of personal protective equipment and expects to issue its new rules in November, a spokesperson told HCN. The directives will cover what employers are responsible for providing, according to OSHA. As for the ergonomic rules, OSHA just finished a set of guidelines for the shipbuilding industry and is “in the process of selecting the next industry we’re going to work on,” the spokesperson said, adding that lumberyards “are on our radar.”

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