NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Creaky Structure Of OSHA's Ergonomics Challenges

June 7, 2000

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed workplace ergonomics regulations which are due for final approval this year. In the view of Cato Institute labor and employment expert Eugene Scalia, the rules are based on bad science and should be abandoned.

He argues that a great deal of medical uncertainty still surrounds so-called repetitive motion syndrome and neither ergonomists nor doctors can identify the point at which exertion ceases to be benign and becomes a workplace hazard.

Even among OSHA's experts there is a great deal of disagreement which, he points out, has developed for the agency an "abysmal" three-case record of ergonomics litigation.

  • In the 1995 Beverly Enterprises case, "OSHA could not establish that lifting causes back injury."
  • In the 1998 Dayton Tire case, "OSHA charged that nearly two dozen jobs in a single facility were hazardous but at trial could not establish the presence of a single hazard" because OSHA's experts could not agree with each other's assessment of supposed job hazards.
  • Finally, in the 1997 Pepperidge Farm case, "OSHA and the world's leading ergonomists could not identify changes needed to eliminate supposed ergonomic hazards."

Employers, Scalia advises, should not be commanded to make scientific determinations that consistently have eluded OSHA.

Source: Eugene Scalia, "OSHA's Ergonomic Litigation Record: Three Strikes and It's Out," Policy Analysis No. 370, May 15, 2000, Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., (202) 842-0200.

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