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Voluntary Ergonomic Efforts Work, Mandatory Standards Unnecessary, AMI Official Says

Monday, July 16, 2001

Washington, DC – Voluntary ergonomic guidelines implemented by meat packers in a partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) more than 10 years ago reflect a track record of continuous improvement, said AMI Director of Worker Safety Dan McCausland. McCausland made his remarks at the first in a series of Labor Department forums to revisit the ergonomics issue.

“Our members have employed ergonomics techniques to improve safety and productivity in the meatpacking industry for well over 10 years, … All of this has been, and continues to be, done through the use of voluntarily applied ergonomics guidelines,” McCausland said at the forum held in Arlington, VA.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1990 there has been a 40 percent reduction in worker injury and illness and a 60 percent drop in incidents resulting in lost time from work. The use of voluntary guidelines has helped make this progress possible, McCausland said.

Among the most significant changes seen are programs tailored to individual plant situations, efforts to eliminate ergonomic risks and hazards and development of new tools, equipment, methods and production processes, McCausland noted. For example, workstations are adjustable to accommodate height and lift-assist devices using air, hydraulics or electricity are used to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

“All of these things have become commonplace in meat packing operations and many of them are now virtually industry standards,” McCausland said. In fact, the meatpacking industry is the only industry for which OSHA has developed voluntary standards. OSHA Director of Safety Standards Programs Marthe Kent said the industry was a “star” for its 60 percent decrease in Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) injuries over the last decade. Also, the Clinton Administration’s OSHA Administrator Joseph A. Dear called the meat industry a model for other industries because of its progress resulting from voluntary guidelines.

Department of Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao agreed to revisit the issue of ergonomics in the workplace after Congress repealed an ergonomics standard put in place by the Clinton Administration. Public meetings are scheduled for July 20 in Chicago and July 24 in Stanford, CA. Chao will decide in September whether or not to regulate workplace conditions that may cause repetitive stress injuries.

McCausland pointed out in his comments that the science of ergonomics does not currently lend itself to a structured regulatory approach. To improve occupational safety, the best action is the broad use of voluntary standards without adding the compliance-related burden of a regulation.

“Development of a formal regulation is inappropriate, if not impossible, due to the absence of valid objective criteria,” McCausland said. For example, if the relationship between exposure to high noise levels and hearing loss were unproven and there were no decibel scale with which to measure noise levels, then a noise exposure rule would be impossible to formulate, McCausland said. Practical control measures could be applied but an OSHA rule would remain an “elusive and futile goal” until a way to measure noise and a relationship between that noise and hearing loss became available, he said.

The voluntary ergonomic guidelines for meatpacking plants are one of many productive measures resulting from the voluntary collaboration of meatpackers, AMI and OSHA. AMI strongly supports the practice of ergonomics for safety and productivity improvement on a voluntary basis and opposes the creation of a formal OSHA ergonomics regulation.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

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