Industry Helps Defeat Ergonomics Standard

March 29, 2001
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WASHINGTON, DC — What’s next in regard to the ergonomics standard, developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)?

As far as the hvacr industry is concerned, OSHA is going to have to produce a better document than the one passed by an exiting Clinton administration in November of last year. In part due to pressure applied by various hvacr associations and other industries, President George W. Bush last month signed S.J. Res. 6, a congressional resolution that killed the ergonomics regulation, originally designed to help provide employee safety rules and standards in the workforce.

Make no mistake that the hvacr industry still desires safety in the workplace. However, it wants a better blueprint.

“We know that the workplace should be safe and improved upon, but this standard had too many flaws, vagueness being only one of them,” said Craig Silvertooth, manager of federal relations for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). “The standard was too vague, almost worthless, with no clear-cut guidelines on what would constitute [for instance] a repetitive motion injury.”



LOOPHOLES AND MORE

In the eyes of ACCA president Larry Taylor, S.J. Res. 6 has “saved America’s small businesses millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.”

“When the draft standard was going through the public comment period this past year, we raised our concerns,” said Taylor, who is also president of Air Rite Air Conditioning, Ft. Worth, TX. “These concerns, as well as those of others, were not addressed in the final draft. When the Clinton administration finalized the rule in November, ACCA filed suit in federal court to stop it.”

Silvertooth said the major problem with OSHA’s ergonomics standard were its loopholes.

“Even if implemented correctly, the standard would not do its job,” he said. “There is no way that this ruling could save business owners money.

“For example, in the ruling, if an employee was to get hurt outside of work, he/she would be obligated to report it to their employer. Then there is a process that the employer would have to follow in order to escape liability. This ruling, in effect, opens up employers to more liability without doing an effective job of curtailing workplace injury.”

When asked whether he thought that opposing the ruling would make contractors question association commitment to the industry, Silvertooth said, “There is no clear link between being committed to the industry and supporting the repeal of the ergonomics ruling.”



TELLTALE SIGNS

According to Lake Coulson, the director of government relations for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association (PHCC), review of the ergonomics regulation itself should have been a clue as to what it contained.

“Existing statutes provide the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to review major rules like the ergonomics rule. In this case, on a regulation that some believed was the most expensive in the history of all regulation, OMB took five days, creating the impression that it was hastily promulgated and failed to adequately address the costs of the standard,” he said.

According to Coulson, many contractors probably thought they were exempt from the ruling because of its construction contractor stipulation.

“The fact is, the ruling was very specific about who would and would not be exempt from the ruling,” he said. “The only way a construction contractor would be exempt is if the majority of their business was new construction. This eliminates many contractors.”



INDUSTRY TRENDS

In addition, Coulson pointed out that within the last six years, workplace injury in the industry has decreased.

“OSHA could cite contractors for ergonomics-related violations under its existing ‘general duty’ clause,” Coulson said. “Most contractors have had ergonomics programs, of one form or another, implemented for quite some time.”

In addition, he pointed out that workplace injury has dropped 24% since 1994, according to the Department of Labor.

“Workplace injury is taken very seriously within the industry. Our members value safety and health,” said Coulson.

“To us, the rule would have been burdensome on our industry because of its extreme cost and restrictive nature.”



Sidebar: Midwest Contractors Expo: Unique Partnerships

WICHITA, KS — When you get a bunch of heavy hitters in one room, there is bound to be some interesting repercussions.

It’s not every day that prominent national hvacr organizations share the same stage at regional meetings and/or expos. But something very special happened in early March in the nation’s heartland.

The Midwest Contractors Expo 2001 was hosted by the city of Wichita and featured contractors from four recognizable industry groups: Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA); Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association, Inc. (PHCC); Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA); and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

David Finley, executive director of the Kansas/Wichita PHCC Chapter, said the partnership was formed as much out of necessity as anything else.

“We have a lot of small contractors spread out in small towns around here,” he said. “They have to be able to do a little bit of everything — hvac, plumbing, sheet metal, etc.”

Finley said that there wasn’t always a spirit of cooperation, citing some of the “old line” plumbers who preferred to stay to themselves. But now?

“We are getting a lot of young business owners involved and attitudes are changing,” he said.

The 2001 Expo featured several dozen exhibitors and seminar speakers. Topics included “Duct Design Standards,” sponsored by SMACNA; “Air Sampling, Mold & Indoor Quality”; and “Radiant Heating, Latest in Design, Product Selection & Installation.”

Engineers and architects attended seminars including “Comprehensive Presentation of Sheet Metal Training” and “Geothermal Heat Pumps,” which met Kansas requirements for professional development hours (PDH).

Publication date: 04/02/2001

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