“The greatest flaw is that the rule,” Hammonds said, “would slow the significant reduction in workplace injuries that the industry has achieved through voluntary efforts.”
The industry has cited numerous reasons for eliminating the regulation, including:
The industry has cut worker injuries dramatically without government mandates. Through voluntary efforts, grocers reduced workplace injuries and illnesses by 33 percent over the past decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (see attached chart). This decrease far outpaces the 26 percent reduction that OSHA projects its ergonomics rule would bring about over the next 10 years.
OSHA’s rule would undermine proven programs to make the workplace safer. The regulation would force companies to focus on bureaucracy rather than fixing problems. Under the rule, a “Comprehensive Ergonomics Program” must include such features as “management leadership and employee participation,” and bureaucratic “job hazard analysis,” and “program evaluation.” The extensive record-keeping requirements would divert industry resources from measures that directly improve worker safety.
The rule would require practices that defy gravity. In documents to demonstrate the rule’s feasibility, OSHA proposed to limit the weight of grocery bags to 15 pounds. How then are grocers to pack 20-pound turkeys in 15-pound bags — not to mention pet food and the many other items sold in bulk sizes? The answer is that this requirement will force customers to bag their own groceries.
The cost to industry and consumers would be untold billions. The rule would require ergonomic programs for virtually every job in the grocery industry, which employs more than 3.5 million workers. In an industry whose net profit averages one penny on every dollar of sales, the rule would inevitably result in higher food prices
The rule would require the industry to reengineer the entire workplace. OSHA documents suggest that grocers would have to install adjustable check stands and keyboards, and wells equipped with scales to weigh bags. Grocers and wholesalers may have to eliminate lower or upper shelves and reconfigure or expand warehouses to make up for the lost storage space. In an industry already reducing worker injuries at a fast pace, such major changes are not needed.
The industry has led the way in promoting worker safety. FMI has improved workplace safety through numerous initiatives, including worker education and training, checkstand redesign guidelines, and case standards and weight reduction. In the early 1990s, FMI established an industrywide Ergonomics Task Force that produced manuals, courses and videos to promote a worker safety. FMI published an Ergonomics Guide to help workers perform their jobs more safely and comfortably. Working with suppliers, FMI developed guidelines to lighten case weights, and to standardize sizes to make pallets more stable and less likely to cause accidents that injure workers.
OSHA finalized the rule before the publication of a congressionally mandated study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). That study found that “None of the common musculoskeletal disorders is uniquely caused by work exposures,” and “research is needed to clarify such relationships.”
Note: When delivered to members of Congress, the turkeys are frozen. FMI arranged to have unused turkeys donated to the Capital Area Food Bank.