New Ergonomics Standard: Right Approach, But May Be Short Lived
What would it cost your masonry firm if you had to give your bricklayers and laborers two hours of paid break during an eight-hour day? In addition, how productive would your company be if you had to limit your employees to only lifting 1,500 pounds, which is the equivalent to 39 block or 300 brick, per day? It doesn't take us long to figure out that with these restriction, masonry would not be a viable industry. That was just some of the impact the Clinton 600 page ergonomics standard would have had on our industry if Congress and President Bush hadn't repealed the standard implemented just days before President Clinton left office.
Under the Bush Administration, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao held hearings and received written testimony from 368 different organizations, the Mason Contractors Association of America was one of them, seeking input on a rational approach to workplace injuries caused from repetitive motion. The long awaited new standard was introduced by Secretary Chao and OSHA Administrator John Henshaw on April 5 and much of the new standard is good news for the masonry industry and is what the MCAA sought in our written testimony to Secretary Chao.
Unfortunately, the battle is just beginning with Congressional Democrat Leaders drawing the battle lines over ergonomics. In fact, I believe that this issue will be one of the cornerstone issues in the fall elections since Democrat House Leader Dick Gephardt called for a return to the old Clinton 600 page ergonomic standard if Democrats gain control over the U.S. House of Representative in the fall mid-term elections. Although some Democrats don't appear content waiting to see if Democrats regain control of the U.S. House. Some are beginning to sound the alarm now for legislation to be introduced during this Congress to force OSHA to reverse itself and adopt a more hard line on ergonomic injuries. In fact I hear that efforts will be made to expand the ergonomics standard to construction which had an initial reprieve in the old standard. And if that happens, I can't think of any construction trade that would be hit harder than masonry. Even my Senator from the state of Massachusetts, Sen. Edward Kennedy jumped into the fray when he was quoted as saying "If corporate CEO's were experiencing these (ergonomic) injuries instead of secretaries and cashiers, we would see a very different policy coming out of this administration." No doubt that the political drum is banging loud as the fight for control over Congress begins.
The Mason Contractors Association of America has been debating this issue along with several other vital issues that impact our industry over the past several Executive Board meetings. The result of these meetings and our long-term strategic planning sessions was to commit association resources to hire a full time Director of Government Affairs and establish a full time Washington D.C. office. The responsibilities of this person will be to represent the interests of MCAA members in Washington D.C. In addition they will be responsible for overseeing MCAA's legislative initiatives, monitoring federal and state legislation, educate Members of Congress as well as the masonry industry on the impact that proposed legislation would have on masonry. This person will direct association responses to proposed legislation. They will also work closely on monitoring federal agencies and mobilize efforts to affect proposed regulatory reform. Bottom line, this new position and Washington presence will be our advocate in protecting the long term interests of MCAA members, the industry and our futures as mason contractors.
It is clear that we must not wait and hope for the best. The new OSHA standard is a good start but one that I believe will be short lived unless groups, such as the Mason Contractors Association of America, get involved in the process and have a voice in future legislation and regulations. As mason contractors we must all be more diligent in educating our elected federal officials concerning the negative impact an aggressive ergonomic standard would have on our future. We must find a little time out of our busy lives of preparing bids, running jobs and collecting receivables to let our representatives know that we are watching. Our futures depend on it.
About the Author
William McConnell is the owner of Architectural Paving & Stone, Inc. He has served as President of the Mason Contractors Association of America and on the Board of Trustees for the International Masonry Institute. McConnell was a recipient of the 2005 C. DeWitt Brown Leadman Award.