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Ergonomics

Position: The North Carolina Department of Labor has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in which it announced its intent to adopt an ergonomics standard which would apply to North Carolina businesses. NCCBI is opposed to the implementation of such a standard, as there is no evidence that such a standard would improve the safety and health of North Carolina employees and the costs would be disproportionate to any unknown benefit. Thus, such a standard would put North Carolina businesses at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in other states without a tangible benefit.

Explanation: Ergonomics is generally defined as human engineering - an applied science concerned with finding ways to make people safe, comfortable, and productive while they work. In the workplace, North Carolina OSHA and federal OSHA have attempted to regulate employers in the area of ergonomics by issuing citations based on OSHA's general duty clause where they feel that employees have been exposed to risks of harm from repetitive motion injuries. However, when challenged, these citations have not survived scrutiny, because OSHA has been unable to prove either (1) that workplace conditions caused the injury or illness; or (2) a feasible means of abatement.

This highlights the fact that the evidence regarding causation of such injuries or illnesses is uncertain. There is a lack of agreement among doctors and industrial scientists on what causes repetitive motion injuries and how to prevent them. One thing that is very clear is that there are numerous factors in the equation. However, what is known is that, after 10 years of real industrial experience, the number of such workplace injuries is on a sharp decline in North Carolina. In the past three years they have declined by 30 percent and now represent less than 1% of all workplace injuries, according to state government statistics. This has occurred without a burdensome standard.

Further, this is an issue which is national in scope. Federal OSHA has been working on a draft ergonomics rule for 3 to 5 years. Considerable federal resources have been devoted to this effort. While North Carolina OSHA may claim that it is breaking barriers, what is clear is that it runs the risk of creating artificial barriers and making North Carolina noncompetitive. The only other state to attempt to implement such a standard, California, has had their standard held in abeyance while legal challenges to it are pending. And, there is almost universal agreement that any standard would be the most costly in OSHA history. However, there is no clear evidence that a standard would improve the situation. Given the existing debate over the causes of repetitive motion injuries, the lack of evidence that a standard would reduce the incidence of repetitive motion injuries, and the potential actual costs and competitive costs to North Carolina employers, NCCBI is opposed to the implementation of an ergonomics standard by North Carolina OSHA.

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