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Michigan takes a step back

March 25, 2011

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The idea behind the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s section allowing states to implement their own OSH program is brilliant – when it’s used properly.

Every state choosing to go this route gets control over the program, provided it’s “at least as effective” as federal OSHA. It gives states the flexibility to run their own show, the federal government provides up to half their program’s funding, and they’re allowed to implement requirements that can exceed federal OSHA’s own standards. More workers are covered, more worksites can be inspected and more innovative ways to promote workplace safety and health can be developed.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out as hoped. A series of reports released last September highlighted several flaws in many of the state-run programs, and federal officials admitted their oversight of these programs was not what it should be.

Even still, such potential shortfalls can be exceeded by state-run programs – which OSHA administrator David Michaels once called “integral” to federal OSHA’s efforts.

But that’s why it’s so disappointing to see Michigan essentially neglect to do so, at least in one area.

On March 22, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law a bill (S. 20) prohibiting the state’s OSH program – MIOSHA – from promulgating an ergonomics standard. Not only is MIOSHA barred from issuing an ergonomics standard, it is prohibited from issuing guidance that would exceed federal OSHA recommendations:

“… If there are federal occupational safety and health administration ergonomics guidelines, the guidance or other assistance shall not advocate workplace ergonomic programs that are more stringent than indicated in those guidelines.” – Soon-to-be enacted Sec. 17(2) of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act 

This law runs counter to the idea behind the State Plan program.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (left) and state Sen. Rick Jones with a copy of the state’s new law banning ergonomics regulation.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (right) and state Sen. Rick Jones with a copy of the state’s new law banning ergonomics regulation.
Photo: Sen. Rick Jones

MIOSHA had been working on an ergonomics standard – and it would have been the second such standard in the nation (California was first) – but the plan was shelved after Snyder announced plans to scuttle it. Because GOP wins in Michigan in the last election gave Republicans the governor’s mansion and a majority in both the state House and Senate, passage of the bill was assured. They didn’t waste any time, either – it took only nine weeks to sign the bill into law after its introduction in the Senate.

Yes, ergonomics regulation is controversial, and perhaps MIOSHA’s proposal would have been overly burdensome to business and generally ineffective (I never saw their proposal).

But to so quickly throw a blanket ban on any type of regulation or even guidance that attempts to tackle the huge problem of musculoskeletal disorders seems counterproductive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSDs accounted for 28 percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses that required days away from work in 2009.

That’s nothing to smile about.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters."

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