ANSI Ergonomics Standard Passes Crucial Test
By Scott Schneider
Overcoming resistance from six construction contractor associations, the Appeals Panel of the American National SI A10 Secretariat cleared the way for adoption of the ANSI A10.40 standard, Reduction of Musculoskeletal Problems in Construction, with its dismissal of the contractors’ appeal in May.
In a May 25, 2007, letter to Tim Fisher, the Secretary of the ANSI A10 Committee, the Appeals Panelists wrote, “Based upon the information and presentations provided by the interested parties, it is the unanimous opinion of the Panel that the appeal(s) presented by each of the Appellants are without merit and are non-persuasive, and that the Secretariat has complied with ANSI Due Process as we understand it.”
The standard will now be presented to the ANSI Board of Standards Review (BSR) which will review the materials and issue the final standard within 90 days, unless it is appealed. Such further appeals are allowed only on procedural grounds. If successful, an appeal could further delay issuance of the standard or, possibly, prevent its ultimate publication. However, in its May 25th decision, the Appeals Panel did consider the procedural claims of the appellants and ruled against them on all counts.
Since it started more than four years ago, the effort to adopt a voluntary “sprain and strain” (sometimes called “ergonomics”) standard for construction has been difficult. These injuries account for about one-third of lost work days and an even larger percentage of workers’ compensation dollars. Many Laborers leave the industry early or retire disabled because of such injuries.
Adoption of a standard required the development of a consensus among 74 diverse representatives of contractors, unions, safety consultants, insurers and others. Over many meetings, the A10 committee debated how to craft a standard that would benefit the industry but not be too prescriptive. It went through several drafts trying to address all concerns. The draft standard was balloted several times and eventually approved in October 2006 by two-thirds of the committee and 75 percent of those voting. Then, it was appealed.
The appellants were the Associated General Contractors (AGC), the American Subcontractors Association (ASA), the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SHACCNA). Hearing five lines of protest, a three-member, non-partisan panel picked by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) heard the appeal on May 1.
The panel’s unanimous rejection of the appeal on all counts is excerpted below.
1. Lack of Scientific Basis
The Panel agrees that science will never be perfect and to wait for such perfection would mean never issuing any standard on musculoskeletal problems, or any other issue of contention, regardless of the existence of scientific evidence.
2. Failure to Follow Due Process
Based upon the evidence and testimony provided at the A10.40 Appeals Hearing, the Panel has determined that these arguments are without merit. It is the finding of the Panel that the Secretariat met and exceeded the requirements as outlined in the ANSI Essential Requirements: Due process requirements for American National Standards.
3. Lack of Consensus
Given the trail of documentation and conduct of the committee and Secretariat, the Panel is puzzled by the serious allegations proffered by the appellants. The appellants have apparently taken a “lets stand on the side of the road and see what develops approach,” while being asked to participate and kept in the communication loop. Then once a document was generated, the appellants decided to join hands in opposition to a product they were invited to be involved with from the beginning. Their allegations do not reconcile with their actions and imply something less than good faith in negotiating their position.
4. Liability Increases
This argument is raised with many new proposed standards, codes, rules and/or regulations. However, the reality of this contention is rarely seen once a standard, code, rule or regulation becomes effective. In fact the standard, code, rule or regulation is more often used in a litigation sense to show employer conformance to such standards.
With each version of a standard, newer, more precise terminology is incorporated to clarify the meaning and focus of the document. There are often parties that don’t feel the terms are specific enough, and there are others that believe the terminology is too specific. As a standard is used, these issues are revealed and become issues of consideration for the next version of the standard. In any event, the Secretariat can be asked for an interpretation by interested parties.
Despite the view of some contractors that sprain and strain injuries are an unavoidable part of the construction business that should not be regulated, even voluntarily, the LHSFNA has always taken the position that responsible employers should incorporate a variety of engineering and administrative controls to reduce the risk of these costly and often debilitating injuries. The analysis of the A10 Committee affirmed this view. Widespread implementation of this voluntary standard should improve the bottom line in construction while preventing thousands of disabling injuries.
For more help with ergonomic problems in construction, go to the Ergonomics and Construction section of the LHSFNA website.