NEWSPAPERS PREPARE FOR NEW ERGONOMICS RULES

By: Todd Shields

Opponents Still Hope To Block Measures


As the ergonomics maven for the Newspaper Association of America
(NAA), Donald Hensel is a busy guy, traveling to different
newspapers to lend advice on how to load bundles, stuff inserts,
or type stories with the fewest injuries possible.

Hensel thinks demand for his talents will only grow. The reason:
federal rules that enter the books on Tuesday will require all
private employers – including newspapers – to follow a
potentially complex and costly regimen to avoid workplace
injuries from repeated stress.

Employers are not required to comply with the new ergonomics
standard until Oct. 15. In the meantime, opponents will be asking
courts, Congress, and the executive branch itself to void the
rules. But those efforts may fail, and newspapers, like other
employers, are preparing to live with the new rules.

“We’re going to have to gear up immediately,” said Hensel,
manager for environmental and safety services at the NAA, which
represents more than 2,000 newspapers. NAA members “are going to
rely on us for fill-in-the-blank ergonomics programs” that comply
with the new requirements, Hensel said.

The rules, in the making for nearly a decade, rank among the most
far-reaching in a blizzard of late-term regulations issued by the
outgoing administration of President Clinton. The U.S. Labor
Department estimates that complying with the rules will cost
employers $4.5 billion annually, while bringing $9.1 billion
yearly in health-care savings and other benefits.

The rules are meant to forestall the lower-back and repetitive-
stress injuries that together account for about a third of all
workplace injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health
Administration, which issued the rules, said they will prevent
about 4.6 million injuries over 10 years.

Organized labor applauded OSHA’s move, and pledges a battle to
preserve the rules. “It’s something [we’ve] been fighting for,
for about two decades,” said Candice Johnson, spokeswoman for the
Communications Workers of America, parent of The Newspaper Guild.
“There are thousands of workers who suffer these injuries every
year, and these can be prevented.”

Critics say OSHA’s cost estimates are too low, and contend the
rules impose onerous conditions. For example, employers would
need to conduct a time-consuming check for compliance with
ergonomic standards if even one worker complains of a covered
injury. This requirement for action without a medical diagnosis
led the American College of Occupational and Environmental
Medicine to withdraw its support for the regulation.

More than a dozen lawsuits already have been filed against the
rules. No court decision is expected before early 2002, according
to the National Coalition on Ergonomics, an ad hoc consortium of
groups fighting the standards. Meanwhile, opponents may ask OSHA
to agree not to enforce the standard. However, their main gambit
will be to ask Congress to block the rules using a regulatory
review mechanism that has never before been exercised.

Newspaper executives say the industry has moved to prevent
injuries by instituting training and installing new equipment,
such as adjustable workstations. Statistics suggest these efforts
may have borne fruit, but that newspaper workers – from the
newsroom to the circulation desk to the loading dock – are
at greater risk for repetitive-stress injuries than most workers.

Union leaders concede there has been improvement at newspapers
– but argue more is needed. “They’ve been getting better,”
said Linda Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild. But, she
added, “Certainly there are newspapers where the situation is not
what it should be.”



Todd Shields (tshields@editorandpublisher.com)
is the Washington editor for E&P.



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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