By: Mark Fitzgerald
In contrast to the angry reaction from many other businesses, newspapers are not getting too bent out of shape over the proposed federal ergonomic standards.
“We’ve been doing this for seven or eight years now,” said Paul Reiser, safety director for The Oregonian in Portland. “We have a person on board whose only job is to work with people the minute they start feeling uncomfortable. Our complaints and claims now are very minimal. ? The new regulations I don’t think are going to bother us at all.”
Newspapers’ generally low-key reactions to the regulations announced Nov. 22 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reflect the fact that the industry “is ahead of a lot of other industries in terms of establishing ergonomic programs,” said Paul Boyle, vice president of government affairs for the Newspaper Association of America.
The new regulations affect virtually every newspaper in the nation because they address the ergonomic injuries employees can get by typing on a computer in the newsroom, locking a plate into a printing press, or stacking bundles of preprints into inserter heads in the packaging center.
Almost every newspaper would be required to maintain what OSHA calls a “basic program.” Someone must be appointed to inform employees about ergonomic risks and ensure that workers have a way to report injuries.
OSHA’s full program requires employers to identify, analyze, and control job hazards; conduct ergonomic training; provide a way to remedy so-called MSD (musculoskeletal disorder) injuries; and keep records for at least three years.
Newspapers are most upset about the agency’s proposal to mandate the much costlier program if an employer reports a single job-related ergonomic injury.
“In my opinion, that is way, way too unreasonable,” said Celia Booth, director/safety and loss prevention for Gannett Co. Inc.’s 74 daily newspapers. OSHA’s new policy does have a provision it calls “Quick Fix” that allows a business to avoid the full program if the job hazard that caused the single ergonomic injury can be remedied within 90 days.
Gannett encourages employees to report suspected repetitive strain injuries as early as possible, but Booth and other safety experts worry that the new regulations will make employers responsible for injuries employees sustain playing recreational sports or even surfing the Net at home.
“How do you handle a situation where someone spends 10 hours on the Internet doing Christmas shopping late into the night on a poorly designed workstation at home ? then comes into work Monday and says, ‘My hands hurt.’?” Booth asked.
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