Despite rejection of their May appeal by the Appeals Panel of the A10 Secretariat of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), five construction contractor associations are continuing their fight to block adoption and publication of the ANSI A10.40 standard, Reduction of Musculoskeletal Problems in Construction. While announcing their intention to file an additional appeal to the ANSI Bureau of Standards Review (BSR), the contractors secured a 90-day extension – until November 9 – to allow time to prepare the appeal. 

Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration resigned from the A10 body on August 29 so that its name would not be printed on the standard, which had been scheduled for publication on that date. OSHA took the highly unusual action to avoid association with the voluntary standard which was developed through years of arduous negotiation and compromise among a wide cross-section of construction industry organizations. OSHA said it would reapply for membership in the A10 committee as soon as the standard was published without its name. 

“Ergonomics has always been a contentious issue in our industry,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni, “but I believe that the committee has reached a reasonable compromise. Sprain and strain injuries are the most common and most costly in construction. Workers suffer the physical consequences while employers carry a major financial burden. If it ignored these facts, the A10 committee would be both foolish and irresponsible. With no OSHA regulations in this area, a voluntary standard is a first step. It provides guidance to everyone involved.”

OSHA’s stance on the ergonomics standard is rooted in politics. In 1999, after more than a decade of study, the agency announced plans to adopt a general industry ergonomics standard, but a Republican-controlled Congress forbade its promulgation in 2001. After that, the agency announced a “four-pronged comprehensive approach,” published guidelines for just three industries (nursing homes, retail groceries and poultry) and then adopted a low profile on the issue, though its staff continued participation on the A10.40 committee.

It was after the Congressional ban that the ANSI A10 committee began work on the voluntary standard for construction, citing extensive research that documents the high cost of musculoskeletal injuries in the industry. Nevertheless, the five contractor associations – the Associated Builders and Contractors, the American Subcontractors Association, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, the National Association of Home Builders and the Associated General Contractors – consistently resisted adoption of any ANSI-recommended action to protect workers from these often debilitating injuries.

Based on allegations that the A10 committee did not follow ANSI-required procedural rules in consideration of the standard, the contractors’ appeal, if filed as intended by November 9, will be heard by the BSR, sometime between that date and February 9, 2008. In the meantime, following ANSI Operating Procedures, the A10 committee plans to publish the standard as adopted. However, in a September 21 letter to the BSR, the appealing associations asked ANSI to refrain from publication until a decision is rendered on their appeal. As we go to press, the standard is being finalized (without OSHA’s name) for printing. Unless the BSR intervenes, A10 committee members and the larger health and safety community will be notified as soon as the standard is available. 

The standard will remain in effect unless the BSR overturns it. Once the standard is published, OSHA plans to rejoin the A10 committee in its on-going consideration of other voluntary construction standards. 

[Steve Clark]